Last night's game was technically not a must-win scenario seeing that the Pistons entered the United Center 1.5 games ahead of the Chicago Bulls, and even with a loss they still would be an 8th seed, if the post-season started today. But it certainly felt like the winner of the game would be marching into the Playoffs, while the loser would be watching from home. The "biggest game of the season" superlatives were being thrown around by the media and both organizations prior to Saturday's match-up, and this one did not disappoint.
Jimmy Butler almost ruined the Piston's party with his best game of the season (against any team not named the 76ers), and one of the best games of his career. He recorded his first career triple-double, producing this bananas statline- 28 points, 17 rebounds, 12 assists, 3 steals, AND 2 blocked shots (career high's in assists and rebounds). Butler looked like the best two-guard in the league, as he drove, dished, and hit big bucket after big bucket, when the Bulls needed someone to hit a shot. But it was simply not enough to lift the downtrodden Chicago Bulls past their up and coming Central Division rivals.
The Pistons were certainly aided by the absence of Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson, who were both sidelined prior to the tip. The Bulls only reliable offense came from Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol and Aaron Brooks. Gasol has a knack for big games against Detroit, and last night was more of the same, as he scored 16 points and grabbed 14 boards.
This game was back and forth all night, with the Pistons and Bulls tied on 13 occasions, and the lead changing a whopping 15 times. The Pistons largest lead was seven points and the Bulls biggest margin was only six. With so much importance resting on the result of the game, it was an emotional roller coaster for everyone involved, including yours truly watching from home, as I found myself celebrating like a five-year-old when the Pistons pulled away. Detroit was honestly the better team on the floor; their starters (sans Dre) took their play to the next level in the game's most crucial moments.
The Pistons did not steal this game. They fought, they battled, and they wanted it more.
Tobias Harris is quickly moving up the ranks as one of my favorite players in the league. He had 21 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists, while shooting an efficient 9/17 from the field. I've said it before, but it's refreshing to have an additional player on the court who can truly create their own offense, and get other players involved. Harris is the kind of player, that when he has the mismatch, produces almost automatic offense for the Detroit Pistons. Either by him hitting the shot himself, or passing it out to an open man.
The entire Pistons starting unit scored in double figures, and Marcus Morris continues to be a reliable source of offense as he scored 16 points while shooting 2/4 from deep.
The Pistons faltered where you'd guess they would. The free-throw shooting was frankly awful, Drummond can't stay on the floor in the 4th quarter due to hack-a-Drummond tactics (can you blame them?), and the bench can't score. But I won't focus too much on that, seeing as a win is a win, and most of our players did exactly what they had to do to secure a victory for the good guys. Let's hope Dre somehow finds a way to shoot better than his league-worst 35% free-throw percentage, if the Pistons make it to the post-season party.
The most satisfying aspect of last night's defiant win was watching "Detroit Muscle" flex on the defensive side of the ball, with the wings and guards truly getting in lockdown mode in the 4th quarter. A glimpse at the play by play recap shows when the Pistons went to the vice grip. The Bulls only managed to score two points from the 4:24 to 00:41 second mark.
Butler, who was nearly unstoppable for 95% of the game was worn down, and swarmed by both Marcus Morris and KCP. Butler was the only player in red who has what it takes to close out a grind-out, knock-down style game, but the Pistons wouldn't allow that. Not last night. Not this season.
With the Pistons win in hand, they now sit with a 2.5 game lead over the Bulls, and a half-game lead over the Pacers for the 7th seed. Detroit's magic number is now 3, to secure their first playoff berth since 2009. What was your biggest takeaway from last night's game, Detroit Bad Boys nation?