The last time the Pistons and Bulls met up, 68 minutes of scintillating, exhausting basketball took place at the United Center, as the Pistons took the second meeting between the two rivals.
And as exhausting as that game was for Pau Gasol, it promised to be just as taxing defending Andre Drummond without the help and assistance of Joakim Noah.
But mammoth challenges presents opportunity, and Gasol showed his value to the Bulls and the league at large with a 31-point, 12-rebound performance, leading the Bulls to a 111-101 win at the Palace Monday afternoon, their first win in three tries.
Derrick Rose’s two drives to the basket on consecutive plays, the last a fading, hooking floater, put seemed to end the Pistons’ threat and send the fans to the exits, giving him 20 with four assists on nine of 17 shooting in just 27 minutes.
“Pau was unbelievable all night long and I thought our guys did a great job of finding him and setting screens on Drummond,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Derrick made a couple nice takes to the basket late.”
[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
Gasol’s triple with the shot clock expiring gave the Bulls a 98-88 lead with a little under six minutes to go, and combined with the ejection of perimeter stopper Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, things became more and more likely to roll in the Bulls’ favor.
And without Noah, the Bulls will need more and more performances like this from Gasol, probably just to stay afloat.
“It’s gonna be different on different nights,” Hoiberg said. “He had it going. And plus he does a good job from a size standpoint against Drummond. We’ll look at the schedule and see if there’s opportunity to rest him.”
Without Noah, the dependence will be greater but Rose believes it presents more of an opportunity for others to step forward—and he’s not buying the Bulls being better without Noah, despite the Bulls’ 9-2 record without him.
“I’m not going to say we’re over him or don’t need him. We need him for sure,” Rose said. “We’re professionals, we know that once someone goes down somebody has to step in and do their job. We’re going to see how far this can go.”
Aaron Brooks came off the bench to tally 10 assists, with Butler having nine of his own as the Bulls dished out 28 helpers to just 10 turnovers, reversing what had been an alarming trend, particularly on the road.
“I thought our bench turned around the game for us and they got us back into it,” said Hoiberg, remarking about the second quarter where the Bulls gained control thanks to Brooks’ driving and dishing to the likes of Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic for 3-pointers, as the Pistons defense was slow to recover and allowed guard penetration all game.
"I thought our guys made the right plays, we made simple plays," Hoiberg said.
Drummond had another double-double, but the Bulls, and Gasol, limited his above-the-rim plays and even drew a semi-controversial 3-point shooting foul with 0.3 seconds on the shot clock when the Pistons were making a slight run.
Drummond finished with 13 points and 15 rebounds, and Reggie Jackson scored 19 with six assists—but without the blistering effect he had in their last meeting when he torched the Bulls for 40-plus.
With a tough week ahead, Monday was the start, and the Bulls finally played with the requisite focus, as the Pistons beat the Golden State Warriors Saturday night on their home floor.
It didn’t start out that way, as the Bulls seemed to be in a lethargy that’s usually reserved for games against the Pistons, a team that has turned things around matchup-wise over the last two years or so.
Gasol shooting six for seven from the field kept the Bulls afloat when they didn’t seem interested in competing with the Pistons on the interior. The Pistons took a 13-point lead and it seemed to be on the way to running the Bulls out of the building.
But the Bulls actually played with a little poise, and wouldn’t you know it, held it together long enough for an impressive road win against an above. 500 team.