Fumblin', Bumblin', Stumblin': Bulls Throw Away 19 Point Lead, Trail Detroit 3-0The Detroit Pistons took the Chicago Bulls' best shot--and then delivered a knockout punch. Chicago dominated Detroit in the first half of Game Three of the Eastern Conference semifinals, leading 44-28 at halftime. The Bulls pushed their advantage to 49-30 early in the third quarter before completely collapsing the rest of the way, getting outscored 51-25 as the Pistons took a commanding 3-0 series lead with an 81-74 victory in Chicago. The two main culprits in Chicago's demise were turnovers--midway through the fourth quarter the Bulls had committed nine second half turnovers while the Pistons had none--and atrocious shot selection. Detroit went to a zone defense in the second half that completely befuddled and confused Chicago; all of a sudden, it seemed like each Bulls' player felt compelled to overdribble, make a careless pass or fire up a wild shot. The strangest thing about this game is that even after the Bulls owned the Pistons for more than 24 minutes, Detroit looked like a poised and confident team--never forcing the action--while Chicago looked erratic and tentative for most of the second half. ESPN's Jim Gray reported after halftime that Chauncey Billups told him that the Pistons were not worried, which sounded like empty bravado at the time--but the way that Detroit played for most of the second half showed that Billups was telling the truth. On the one hand, you have to respect Detroit's ability to play at a higher level when pushed; on the other hand, you have to wonder why the Pistons are seemingly content to coast for long stretches--sooner or later, if you don't respect your opponents and/or don't respect the game then you will pay the price (not that Chicago is going to be the team to collect the toll this year).
Tayshaun Prince had 23 points and 11 rebounds, while Billups contributed 21 points, seven assists and four rebounds; Prince (19 points) and Billups (17 points) alone outscored the Bulls (30 points) in the second half. Ben Wallace (five points, 12 rebounds, two blocked shots) is not the reason that the Bulls are losing but, on the other hand, he obviously has not proven to be the difference maker that I thought that he would be in this playoff matchup. The strange thing is that the Pistons got basically nothing out of center Chris Webber--zero points, three rebounds--but were still able to win. It certainly helped Detroit that the other four starters all scored in double figures. Both teams shot a lousy percentage--the Pistons shot .395, the Bulls shot .337--and the Bulls dominated the glass (60-43 rebounding advantage) but the Pistons made more three pointers and scored more points off of turnovers. Luol Deng led the Bulls with 21 points and 14 rebounds but shot just 8-22 from the field.
It seems like the Chicago Bulls will have to go back to the drawing board this summer. The expensive acquisition of Ben Wallace apparently is only worth a few more regular season wins and a first round playoff victory. Critics are certain to be out in full force, wondering why the Bulls did not pull the trigger on a deal that could have brought in Memphis' Pau Gasol, who might have provided the steady scoring threat who could have prevented the long scoring droughts that have plagued the Bulls against Detroit. I don't think that Gasol would have helped the Bulls that much, though, particularly if the Bulls would have had to give up Deng; add Gasol and subtract Deng and maybe the Bulls don't even beat Miami--Deng had a big impact in that series. The Bulls certainly could use a legitimate low post scoring threat and I am not convinced that the Ben Gordon-Kirk Hinrich starting backcourt is championship caliber; whichever one plays the shooting guard is too small and they are both erratic with their ball handling and overall decision making. So why did I pick the Bulls in the first place? Let's not forget that Chicago did beat Detroit 3-1 in the regular season, that the Bulls improved this season while Detroit regressed and that Detroit struggled in this round last year against playoff neophyte Cleveland. Those factors, plus the Bulls taking Ben Wallace from Detroit, seemed to tilt things in Chicago's favor--and, for one half, the Bulls played the way that I expected them to play against the Pistons. None of that matters now, of course; a seven game series is a marathon, not a sprint, and in order to win a team must be able to sustain a high level of play for more than 24 minutes.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:18 AM