(Special thanks for MichSt for the photo, who caught one of the rare moments this game was competitive on camera.)
Talk about a train wreck. Saturday's Ben Wallace reunion game was Detroit's most anticipated regular-season game in years, but after a spirited first quarter the Pistons played like it was the first game of the preseason.
The Bulls were up nine at halftime ... and that's when things really took a turn for the worse. The Bulls led by as many as 23 in the fourth quarter before eventually cruising to a 106-89 win. It was painful to watch at home, but I really feel sorry for the Detroit fans who made the trip (free Big Macs aside).
Ben Wallace certainly did his part with 14 boards, six blocks, three steals and (you paying attention, Flip Saunders?) 12 points. Yes, his numbers are down this year, but everyone knew this was coming. I was actually hoping to see one of his vintage performances: he did too much for the Pistons for me to wish ever wish serious ill-will upon him -- I was hoping he would play well and still lose.
But no, the Pistons gift-wrapped a blow-out victory for Bennie and the Bulls with one of their worst games of the season. Rip Hamilton led the team with 27 points and six assists, but even he shot 7-20 from the field. In fact, the Pistons as a team shot 34.8% on the night. A lot of credit has to go to the Bulls for that -- they are one of the league's defensive teams, after all -- but it was incredibly frustrating to see guys like Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace continue their recent struggles.
Tayshaun struggled on both sides of the ball -- he shot 2-12 from the field while his man Luol Deng scored a game-high 30 points -- while Rasheed failed to break double-digit scoring for the sixth time in his last eight games. You can talk up the "missing Chauncey Billups" factor all you want, but Detroit needed a good showing from those two to be competitive in this game no matter who started at point guard.
Of course, that's not to excuse Flip Murray. He had two points (1-9 shooting) and four assists in 30 minutes, and even that doesn't start to do justice to how poorly he played. I noticed this, you noticed this, how come no one on the coaching staff seems to notice? There's no sense in me explaining yet again my feelings on the subject, so I'll defer to the DBB commenters -- from motownman:
Flip Murry wouldn't make Detroit Country Days varsity.
... and from Matt Gibson:
Trade Flip Murray. Trade him! I don’t care what its for. Hell trade him for a steak and potatoes dinner for Cheick Samb. That’ll help us more in the long run than he ever will.
Deep breath. Remember: Chauncey may return in the Pistons' next game on Tuesday. Moving on ...
The silver lining, if there was one, has to be the continued solid play by the bench. More times than not I've been able to say that this year, especially lately. Carlos Delfino scored 10 with seven boards in 22 minutes while Jason Maxiell scored 13 with three boards in 19 minutes. Good things seem to happen when they're on the floor, and if you're of the mindset that the regular season doesn't really count, well, this year has been a great success thus far.
But as much as we've been spoiled from November-April the past few years, I still believe the regular season counts for something, which is why losing this divisional game really hurts. I know you don't want to get too up or too down for any regular season contest, but the Central division is a dogfight this year: Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago are bunched up at the top within one and a half games of each other in that order.
To put that in perspective, that's just one and a half games separating the No. 1 seed (currently the Cavs) in the East and the No. 5 seed (currently the Bulls). A lot will happen between now and the end of the regular season, but it won't be a surprise if these three teams finish the year within a handful of games of each other, especially if Chicago makes the trade to acquire a more offensive-minded big man that a lot of people expect.
It gets easier. Fortunately, Detroit should be able to even out their 1-4 slide with four cupcake games coming up against in Philly (9-24), at home against Charlotte (9-23), in Atlanta (10-21) and at home against Boston (12-20). I'll save you the math: those teams are a combined 48 games under .500.
Bulls 106, Pistons 89 box score [NBA.com]