The Pistons and Bulls battled for control of the East in a far away galaxy, a long time ago and after many years of inactivity there could be a true resurgence of a rivalry between the I-94 combatants.
And with the Pistons coming, sometimes the little breaks and big ones go in the other direction.
Like free throws.
Like loose balls that have a mind of their own.
It took more than 48 minutes, and more than 58 for the score to be settled but the Pistons took on everybody and came away with a win after the NBA’s second quadruple overtime game in 18 years with an 147-144 win at the United Center.
Six players played over 50 minutes of the available 68, and five players scored over 30 points, including Jimmy Butler’s career-high 43. Three Pistons fouled out, almost in succession in the fourth overtime but it wasn’t enough.
“The guys kept fighting,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Derrick, Pau and Jimmy kept it going all night, but unfortunately we didn’t get off to a good enough start in the fourth overtime.”
It looked to be over as the Pistons distanced themselves with a 7-0 run, and Butler hit a triple to cut it to one before made free throws gave him one final chance with 4.4 seconds left.
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But Butler couldn’t shake Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for a good look, and his triple bounced harmlessly off the rim to give the Pistons a 2-0 edge over their rivals this season—the first being a measly one-OT affair in Detroit.
Butler said he was late setting a screen that he wound up flaring off of by a millisecond, giving the defender a chance to recover before the possibility of a fifth overtime came to fruition.
“That’s why it was contested,” Butler said. “I think every shot I shoot has a chance. Nothing I can do about it now.”
The Bulls couldn’t control the big-little tandem of Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, as Jackson repeatedly attacked the Bulls down the stretch — well, down the stretches of this classic game.
Jackson rebounded from missing three buzzer-beaters to finally wear down the Bulls, scoring 33 with 13 assists to go head up with Rose, who produced his best game of the year with 34 points and seven assists.
Drummond fouled out in the fourth overtime, but not before he turned the game on its ear with 33 points and 21 rebounds in 55 minutes. Drummond and Gasol (30 points, 15 rebounds, five assists) battled all night, as Drummond led with his athleticism and youth while Gasol had his guile and experience putting Drummond in foul trouble, calling for an offensive foul on one play and getting it a couple times down later.
“They put a lot of pressure on the rim with Drummond,” Butler said. “He’s good. I think he’s gonna be an All-Star. He’ll be one of the best centers to play this game if he continues to work.”
Tired legs, weary minds and exhaustion kicked in well before the fourth overtime began, and the Bulls will be kicking themselves on the way to New York for Saturday night’s game against the Knicks for a couple reasons.
Rose, after attacking the Pistons defense all night, settled for a 15-foot jumper in regulation as opposed to driving it to the basket — similar to what he did in Detroit in their first meeting on Oct. 30.
“We wanted him to attack but they played him well,” Hoiberg said. “We tried to slip a screen and confuse the switch. They stayed with it and made a heck of a defensive play.”
Rose forced Jackson into misses at the end of two overtimes that made up for his missed jumper in regulation, giving the Bulls second, third and fourth chances at getting control of the game.
At the end of the second overtime the Bulls had a timeout remaining after Jackson’s missed jumper left 2.4 seconds on the clock but they didn’t take it, leaving Tony Snell to fire up an 88-footer that went long
"It was a decision where looking back on it, I should've used it, absolutely," Hoiberg said of not taking the timeout. "I look back on that one for sure.”
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said neither he nor Hoiberg put on an offensive coaching clinic, as both coaches stuck with their regulars through the extra sessions. Joakim Noah played seven seconds after regulation ended, and it was hard keeping Doug McDermott on the floor considering the Pistons attacked him at every opportunity, so Tony Snell played 38 minutes.
“I thought we had the guys in there that would give us the best opportunity to win the game,” Hoiberg said.
Twenty-two-year old Caldwell-Pope had enough gas down the stretch to hit two crucial triples in the second and fourth OT’s, along with defending Rose and Butler at crucial times to aid in the Pistons stealing a win and ending the Bulls’ four-game winning streak.
Neither side led by more than eight, and each had gripes down the stretch with the officials and each other as fatigue set in. Gasol clearly looked gassed in the last two overtimes, barely able to jump after banging with Drummond all night.
Gasol’s recovery of a Rose loose ball after Rose lost it mid-air resulted in him getting fouled by Ersan Ilyasova with 32 seconds left and hitting two free throws to give the Bulls a 105-103 lead in regulation before the Pistons recovered themselves to send it to overtime.
But it was more to come, even as Rose’s most impactful and devastating performance, albeit on 34 shots, became a mere subplot to a wonderful finish neither side should be ashamed of.
But, boy, will they feel it on the plane out of town.