I expected the Bulls to come out fighting on Monday. I was sure of it. I was so sure, in fact, that I was actually nervous going to the game, because a Detroit loss would have planted the seed of doubt in my head that it my presence in the building that somehow jinxed the team.
Of course, my fears were allayed within minutes as the Pistons jumped out to an 8-0 lead, proving that Game 2 was simply an extension of Game 1. The Bulls fought back to get within one, but that just preceded a dominating 21-7 run by Detroit, who ending the first with a 34-18 lead. Flash forward three more frames, and the Pistons finished their homestand with a 21-point victory, 108-87.
Simply looking at the score, you'd probably imagine that all the breaks went Detroit's way. They did, at times, but for the most part they made their own luck:
- The refs sent the Bulls to the line 52 times and the Pistons just 23? Fine, Detroit made up the difference by dominating the boards 51 (!) to 30.
- Rasheed Wallace was limited to just 18 minutes due to fouls? Whatever, Chris Webber (22 points, 10-11 shooting) can pick up the slack.
- Chicago's defense prompted Detroit to commit an uncharacteristic 21 turnovers? OK, it's that kind of night, I guess the Pistons will just have to nail over half (52.6%) of their shots.
It wasn't pretty, but damn was it effective: no matter what the Bulls did, the Pistons did it better. It's almost like the refs felt bad for the Bulls and tried to even things out in the second half: Jason Maxiell, Antonio McDyess and Chris Webber all finished with five fouls, and Rasheed Wallace fouled out despite playing just six minutes after the first quarter.
But through it all, the Pistons did something they so often forgot to do in the regular season: they kept their cool. Oh sure, Rasheed wasn't happy at all, but the night's only technical foul was the result of some extra-curricular physical play by Jason Maxiell, not any whining to the refs.
Furthermore, the Pistons were clearly committed to exploiting their size advantage: six Pistons finished with at least seven rebounds, including Rip Hamilton with a team-high nine. It was not a coincidence:
"I told the guys before the game, no rebounds, no rings," Saunders said.
Compare that to the Bulls, who were led by Ben Wallace's paltry total of seven. (Is this the result of some tampering with the rims? That's such a ludicrous and far-fetched theory that I love it -- I hope the mainstream media picks it up, just because I want to see Scott Skiles head explode when a reporter tries to offer that as an excuse.)
Ben did finish with 13 points, but a lot of those were freebies, wide open dunks that came after a teammate managed to pass out of a double-team. He did a good job protecting the rim with three blocks and a steal, but I still can't help but shake the feeling that the Bulls figured they'd be getting a little bit more when they inked him this summer.
Tyrus Thomas, a turnover machine in Game 1, actually came through with a pretty solid game, leading the Bulls with 18 points (5-9 shooting) in 22 minutes. He was part of the reason Detroit's big men were in foul trouble as he got to the line 11 times himself, but I can live with that: any game the Bulls are content with Thomas finishing with more attempts than Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon, who each fired up seven shots, is fine by me. Besides, most of his production came when the game was already in hand.
From what I gather, Bulls fans like to fancy Chicago's starting backcourt as one of the top tandems in the league. There's promise there, to be sure, but against Detroit's experienced duo of Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups, Kirk and Ben have been exposed as undersized and inconsistent. In fact, it's almost amazing how timid they've become on offense -- especially Gordon, who adds almost nothing when he's not filling the bucket. Hinrich, one of the few Bulls to play well in Game 1, finished 0-7 from the field with just a pair of free-throws to get him on the board.
By and large, the Bulls have played like such crap so far and Skiles has done such a great job pointing it out that I don't think anyone has really attributed any of the blame to the coach. But bringing in Michael Sweetney into the game in the first quarter? Really? I mean, the guy wears No. 50 on his jersey in honor of his waist size. He was a quick -6 in three minutes and change. Is P.J. Brown broken or something? He's got his warts, but at least he's a legitimate power forward. Sooner or later, someone is going to make Skiles explain these things.
While Webber's flirtation with perfection (he was 10-11 from the field) helped carry the Pistons, I was most impressed with Tayshaun Prince's night. He finished with a game-high 25 points, going 9-20 from the field and 3-7 from three-point land. He shot a decent percentage (.386) from beyond the arc in the regular season, but he's been nails from long distance in the playoffs: through Monday's game, he's hit 11-20. The funny thing is that he's still catching people off guard. That works for me, keep leaving him alone, please.
As the game wound down, I couldn't help but think about the Cleveland series last year, how the Pistons more or less routed the Cavs in Game 2 just like they did in Game 1, but ended up letting the Cavs close the gap and save face in the waning minutes to lose by just six points. I still think it was that momentum in those final minutes that helped give the Cavs the confidence to come out and take Game 3, which eventually snowballed into Cleveland jumping ahead to a 3-2 lead.
With that in mind, I'm happy about Detroit's closing power. They refused to let Chicago save face: not only was single-digits never within sniffing distance, they managed to keep the lead above 20. That doesn't necessarily have anything to do with how the Pistons will respond to the United Center crowds in Games 3 and 4, but it tells me they're damn focused right now.
Borderline cocky observation I would've never made a week ago: If this series lasts longer than five games, I'm going to be ticked.