The Pistons all but ran the Bulls out of the gym on Saturday, jumping ahead early and never looking back. Offensively, the Pistons weren't even all that spectacular, but defensively it was just like the old days, be it 2004 or 1989.
You know how people say a team should "step on the throat" of their opposition? That's exactly what the Pistons did, holding the Bulls to 23 points in the first quarter, and then 18 in the second, 16 in the third and 12 in the fourth. It was absolutely brutal, and it resulted in the Bulls setting a new team record for the fewest points in a postseason game. Chicago looked like they make may a game of things when the cut their deficit to eight in the third quarter, but Detroit responded with a nice little run to get it back safely into double-digits, and they opened the fourth with a quick 16-3 run that had Chicago officially giving up the ghost.
In a way, this game might remind you of the first game of the second round last year when the Pistons blew out the Cavs by 27 points. But, there is one notable difference: last year's game was the result of an out-of-character offensive explosion as the Pistons racked up 113 points while shooting 15-22 (68.2%) from three-point land.
But this game against the Bulls? Offensively speaking, it was a ho-hum affair. They shot just 43.9% from the field, and while Detroit got a few timely foul calls, Chicago finished with 10 more attempts from the stripe. Chris Webber grabbed seven boards but scored just five points with no assists. Antonio McDyess hit some nice jumpers but also missed at least two or three tip-in dunks. Chauncey Billups made some big threes but finished with just four assists. Unlike in last year's game one, there's honest to goodness room for improvement, which doesn't bode well for the Bulls.
What impressed me most about the game was how the bench stepped up. We knew coming in that matching Chicago's energy was going to be a point of emphasis for the Pistons, and Flip Saunders managed his rotation to perfection to achieve that goal. I don't think Chicago expected Detroit to go 10 deep in this game, but that's what they did with McDyess, Carlos Delfino, Lindsey Hunter, Jason Maxiell and Flip Murray all seeing action early in the game. Such depth allowed Detroit's intensity to stay high the entire game, which is something we rarely saw in the regular season.
Maxiell scored 12 with six boards, showing off his mid-range jumper as well as his power game in the paint, including six straight against Ben Wallace. Hunter couldn't find the bottom of the basket but led the team with six assists and three steals. And Delfino, well, he did what he does best, letting the ball find him in the right spot at the right time, getting two of his six right here:
Conversely, Chicago's bench looked absolutely lost, finishing the game a laughable 3-for-30 from the field. Scott Skiles was expected to use Tyrus Thomas to "expose" Detroit's perceived lack of mobility up front, but instead Thomas looked like the green rookie he is, turning the ball over five times and committing four fouls in 19 minutes. Andres Nocioni wasn't any better, shooting just 1-8, turning the ball over four times and getting featured on yet another poster shot. (In case you missed it, he's good at that.)
After the game, Skiles singled out Ben Wallace (nine points, eight boards) as one of the few members of the Bulls who turned in a good game. That says more about the rest of the team than it does Ben, though, as nine and eight can hardly be called earning your $60 million.
One of Chicago's biggest strengths is the play of their starting backcourt, and Chauncey and Rip (a combined 40 points) completely outclassed Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon (22 points). Luol Deng (18 points) turned in a very solid game, but he was essentially negated by Tayshaun Prince, who scored five fewer points but had three more assists (4) and three fewer turnovers (1).
Do I expect the rest of the series to come this easily? Hardly. In fact, I predicted in the preview that each team would get blown out at least once in the series. Plus, as we saw last year against the Cavs, it'll be a completely different game once the series heads to Chicago. But still, the Bulls have to be worried about Detroit's killer instinct, which they really didn't see the entire regular season. If Skiles can't figure out a way to make some adjustments, this series might not be so long after all.