AUBURN HILLS, MI — The Palace of Auburn Hills used to be the setting for some strange Bulls occurrences when the building first opened in 1988, and for the Bulls' final visit they turned back the clock in the worst way.
Their fourth quarter offense grinded to a halt and their defense again faltered after a decent start, with Pistons guard Reggie Jackson regaining some of the lost swagger as the Pistons pulled away to win 109-95 Monday night.
In a statement that will be full of painful nostalgia from the days of yesteryear, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said the Pistons "punched us in the mouth" — a little surprising considering Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn were in the building but not in uniform as they were reminiscing about the Pistons-Bulls rivalry of the late 1980's and early 1990's.
Be it lack of toughness or lack of creativity offensively, the Bulls mustered just 16 points in the fourth as Jimmy Butler was taken out of the game with swarming double teams — with Butler actually hearing Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy yell for his team to keep coming to Butler on pick-and-rolls.
The Bulls had no counter aside from hoping guys would make open shots or take advantage of the opportunities on the back side of the defense. It resulted in 30 percent shooting in the fourth.
"We got some wide open looks," Hoiberg said. "When teams blitz like Detroit did tonight, like teams are gonna do to Jimmy, those shots are gonna be open and we have to knock them down."
Taking what the defense gives you can only survive for so long, as you wonder if the Bulls will be satisfied with Butler being negated late in games, especially with no Dwyane Wade as a safety valve or Rajon Rondo as a secondary playmaker.
"I think everybody knows who's gonna get the ball in the fourth now that D-Wade's out, Rondo's out," Butler said. "I could hear (Stan Van Gundy) yelling it on the other end. I want the young guys being aggressive, shooting the ball when you're open, attacking when you can. It's only gonna make us better."
Jackson, who was on the trade block before the Pistons failed to make a deal, began to look like the fourth-quarter monster he was last season as the Pistons made their charge past the Bulls and into the eighth seed.
He scored 24 of his team-high 26 in the second half, exploiting the Bulls' lack of interior defense and made his first eight shots after the half. The Pistons torched the Bulls for 65 points in the second and third quarter after building a sizeable lead early.
"We all know that kid can really play. Passing, shooting, attacking the rim," said Butler of Jackson. "He does so many things well and when you focus on him, he's finding open guys or finding (Andre) Drummond for a dunk."
In the fourth, the Bulls fell behind by a 23-9 margin after playing with so much pace and speed throughout. Jimmy Butler vowed to be more aggressive and it worked to a degree, as he scored 27, and equaling his seven shot attempts from the Clippers loss early in the second quarter.
"They were really aggressive on our pick and rolls," Butler said. "It's easy, actually. I try to beat a double team here and there but I gotta pass it. Maybe a force it here and there but you gotta pass the ball to the open guy. You make it, great, you miss it, great."
That shoot-first mentality carried over to Cameron Payne and Nikola Mirotic, as Mirotic took five shots with the first five times he touched the ball and Payne taking nine 3-pointers and 13 shots overall in 22 minutes.
Payne received more time with Rajon Rondo out with an ankle injury and Dwyane Wade nursing an injured thigh he sustained over the weekend. Jerian Grant stepped forward with a career-high eight assists and Robin Lopez took advantage of a sagging defense with 18 points on 17 shots.
"I missed the majority of them but they were open shots," Payne said. "I wouldn't say they were all bad shots but some were bad shots. I gotta get better with shot selection but I gotta knock them down."
Payne did score 14, but Denzel Valentine went scoreless on his return home in 15 minutes, Mirotic went just two for seven and Bobby Portis couldn't sustain a strong first half performance, scoring just two points with one rebound after halftime.
The Bulls tried a little bit of everything to stop the surging Pistons, going to the "Hack-a-Drummond" strategy with Pistons center Andre Drummond, and they continued the strategy in the third quarter even after he made three of his first four free-throws.
Drummond didn't have a dominant game like he usually does against the Bulls, scoring just 12 with eight rebounds but four starters scored in double figures and the Pistons methodically worked themselves back into the game after a 13-point deficit.
On the Pistons bench, Stan Van Gundy has Tobias Harris and Aron Baynes, dependable reserves who can play starting roles for other franchises.
For Fred Hoiberg, he's forced to rely on young players whose showings differ on a nightly basis, and it showed itself again to be a frustrating finish.
For these great rivals, their ending at the Palace was much like their beginning — a point guard dominating down the stretch and leaving the Bulls' young star frustrated at his lack of help.