By Austin Kent
Monday’s showdown in the Palace of Auburn Hills was an onslaught and a thrashing. It was a confidence-crushing victory and good, old-fashioned beat-fest. It was a message to, and lesson for, the Chicago Bulls and the NBA in general. It was a flashback to a Pistons team that actually cared about the games that they played, and a Bulls squad that couldn’t get past the first round.
Looking to bounce back from their brutal fourth quarter in Saturday night’s loss, the Bulls sought out to show that their Swiffering of the reigning champion Miami Heat was no fluke. Immediately though, The Bens and company fell behind. Just two minutes had passed when the red and white found themselves staring at an 8-0 Pistons lead, a deficit which, although inconvenient, is hardly unbearable. Slightly less bearable however is the fact that those 8 points soon turned into 15, and before you could say “Dick Bavetta blows his whistle too much”, the Pistons were up 34-18 at the end of one.
As bad as the Bulls played, they weren’t as horrible as the score would suggest. And to be honest, there were a number of stretches, including one mini-run in the fourth quarter where I thought the Bulls may be able to make a game of it, but they didn’t. Stretches where, had this been a team like the Phoenix Suns (or even the resuscitated New Jersey Nets), I would have been on the verge of being nervous for the Pistons’ lead.
Alas the Bulls aren’t the Suns (or even the Nets) and those runs and potential TSN Turning Point-worthy shots didn’t fall. In fact, 65.7% of Chicago’s shots didn’t fall.
At the end of the first half the Bulls trailed 53-28, but what would end up being even more hilarious is the fact that their leading scorer at the time was none other than Ben Wallace. In an eerily similar performance to last year’s post season, Wallace quickly vanished into irrelevance for the remainder of the game.
Let’s talk about Jason Maxiell for a minute, the second-year monster plucked from Cincinnati for the sole purpose of being Ben Wallace’s replacement. In 15 minutes of burn, J-Max3000 showed more energy than Wallace showed in the entire 2006 playoff campaign. His stat line won’t show it, but despite appearing out of control for the majority of his Monday night existence, Jason Maxiell embodied all that was missing from last year’s Pistons flop: effort and determination.
If anything good for the Bulls will come from this game, it will be the progress of Tyrus Thomas. The 20-year old rookie leapt, stretched, and bounced his way to an 18 point showing in just 22 minutes, but what’s even more impressive is that he did this all while the rest of his team appeared to have fallen off the face of the planet. If Thomas can take his success in the second half of this game and apply it to games 3 and 4, then the Pistons may find themselves having to guard somebody in the front court.
Leading the way for Flip Saunders was his starting lineup. The first five played the entire first quarter and each left their own considerable impact on the game. None more so than Chris Webber, who just so happened to be the only starter to not reach double digits the game before. Webber immediately stood out scoring 10 points in the first frame and finished the game 10-11 from the field for 22 points.
Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton splattered jumpers all over the helpless visitors (finishing with 25 and 24 points) while Chauncey Billups executed the offense to meticulous perfection. Rasheed Wallace logged 10 points and 7 rebounds before fouling out of the game in just 18 minutes.
Foul trouble loomed from the get-go and struck the Bulls first as PJ Brown picked up 2 in the first nanosecond and Ben Gordon nabbed his third before the end of the first half. Not long after that, it was all Detroit. Every Pistons big man finished the game with at least 5 fouls, but only Sheed reached that infamous sixth. There were 36 fouls called against home side Monday night, to put thing into perspective, the Pistons averaged just 20.3 fouls per game in the regular season. The Bulls were called for 24.
The two teams square off for game three on Thursday where the Bulls will hope to recover in the confines of their very own United Center. Although the 2-0 series lead gives the Pistons the obvious advantage, this series is far from over. Just as the rest of the basketball world can’t, Flip Saunders and the Pistons won’t forget that somehow, deep down, this Bulls team is capable of sweeping the exact same team that eliminated them in the Eastern Conference Finals just last year. It’s just a matter of when the Chicago Bulls will convince themselves they deserve to be on the same court as their former rivals.