Despite defeating the Detroit Pistons 132-118 on Friday at the United Center, the Chicago Bulls extended a pattern of struggling to put away teams with lesser records.
The Bulls’ fifth win in six games carried a caveat — the Pistons played short-handed without Killian Hayes and Hamidou Diallo, who were suspended by the league because of their involvement in a brawl with the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.
The Pistons (9-29) entered the United Center as underdogs, and the loss of both players left them with lesser odds. Yet they hung within single digits for most of the game, forcing the Bulls into another tight finish.
The Bulls are 12-11 against teams with records at or above. 500 but only 4-8 against teams with losing records.
- Zach LaVine recorded a season-high 43 points, scoring 18 points in the first quarter, punctuated by a one-handed alley-oop slam in transition. He finished the first half 4-for-7 from 3-point range and 9-for-13 overall. LaVine’s shooting slowed in the third quarter — he went 2-for-2 from the field — but the guard scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to help clinch the win. He finished 15-for-20 from the field, including 5-for-9 on 3-pointers, and added six assists and two steals.
- With the game tied at 115 with 4:23 left, the Bulls finished with a 17-3 run to cement the win, improving to 7-11 in clutch finishes, which are defined as any game with a margin of five or fewer points in the final five minutes. Only a month ago, the Bulls were 2-8 in such games.
- Alex Caruso returned after missing three games because of a concussion and right shoulder injury, coming off the bench to tally eight points, two assists and two rebounds in 20 minutes. He splashed a 3-pointer to give the Bulls a 122-116 lead with 3:19 remaining.
- Andre Drummond bolstered the Bulls’ rim protection off the bench as he brought a physical edge to the matchup against his former team. Drummond scored 12 points and snagged seven rebounds in 15 minutes, muscling through the young Pistons core and rumbling for a coast-to-coast breakaway in the third quarter.
- Despite adjusting to take an eight-point lead after the first quarter, the Bulls deflated in the middle half of the game as the Pistons consistently pursued plays with a higher effort. The Bulls were outscored 33-27 in the second quarter, allowing the Piston to remain within three points through the end of the third.
- The Pistons shot 17-for-39 (43.6%) from 3-point range, continuing a pattern of opponents shooting at a high clip — and higher volume — from behind the arc. Although the Bulls shot a nearly identical percentage from long range (12-for-27, 44.4%), they took 12 fewer 3-pointers than the Pistons.
While LaVine starred early, the Bulls struggled to provide any secondary offense against a Pistons team stripped of important scorers. The Pistons bench outscored Bulls reserves 46-29, a key factor in the keeping the margin close.
Drummond scored the bulk of the Bulls’ bench points; the rest of the bench combined for only 17 points. This is not uncommon for a Bulls offense heavily anchored by the Big Three of LaVine, DeMar DeRozan (22 points) and Nikola Vučević (19), but this group still requires scoring support to stay consistent through a full game.
Before the game, Bulls coach Billy Donovan provided a hesitantly hopeful update on the recovery of Lonzo Ball, who has been sidelined since January with a left knee injury.
Ball has continued to experience pain and discomfort after undergoing arthroscopic procedures in January and September to address the injury. But the guard is taking small steps forward, adding light jogging and jumping while shooting to his daily workouts with the Bulls training staff.
“It is progressing,” Donovan said. “It’s still really slow, but there has been some improvement.”
Despite the news, Ball’s timeline to return to the court remains murky. He has not been pain-free or played in a game in nearly a year and remains unlikely to make a return before the All-Star Break — and potentially before the end of the season.
Patrick Williams (right clavicle) and Coby White (left knee) both played despite being listed as questionable before the game. Derrick Jones Jr. was the only absence for the Bulls as he continues to recover from a left ankle sprain.
In addition to suspensions, the Pistons were missing Isaiah Livers (right shoulder sprain). Star guard Cade Cunningham will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery for a fracture in his left tibia.
The Bulls improved to 16-19, remaining tied with the Toronto Raptors at 10th in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls will host a New Year’s Eve matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday at the United Center, then head to Cleveland for a rematch Monday.