You’ve heard of must-win games, correct? It’s a term that’s been applied to countless games—most of which actually aren’t. Tonight actually is one. If the Bulls lose, and go down 3-0 to the Detroit Pistons, this series is over. Not just because no NBA team has ever come back from such a deficit, but because the Pistons handled the Bulls so easily in the first two games, that I’m not sure if their collective psyche could survive another loss. (I know it’s such a Nowitzki thing to say, but in this case it’s actually the truth.)
Mark Jackson and Mike Breen. Man. Nothing against those dudes, but I REALLY wish this game was on TNT.
NOTE: The deli across the street was out of Perrier Lime AGAIN. I had to settle for a bottle of San Pellegrino and an actual lime. At least I’ll avoid scurvy.
Ben Wallace offensive rebound, good. Ben Wallace layup attempt, no good.
Pistons turnover, Hinrich travel (for which he earns the ire of Mark Jax: “Be the superstar you’ve been all season long!” Um, what? I’m the biggest Bulls fan I know, and even I wouldn’t call Kirk a SUPERstar.)
Two minutes in, and it’s still 0-0. Awesome. This is not Utah/Golden State. Rip Hamilton breaks the deadlock.
Ben Gordon with a nifty (I love that word) reverse layup that ends with him sliding across the floor on the baseline.
And hey, foul on Hinrich. Shocking.
The Chicago crowd has shown their solidarity by wearing…whatever they want. Come on, people! WE BELIEVE!
Rasheed bucket, Rasheed blocked shot, Pistons travel, Rasheed foul (Ben Gordon).
CWebb takes his time working on Big Ben inside—too much. Travel.
The Pistons are leading the NBA Playoff teams in three-point shooting? I NEVER would have guessed that.
Rasheed hits a baseline turnaround, Kirk misses. He also throws two ill-advised passes within half a minute.
Ben Wallace with a mean dunk on a BG miss. Love the sound of those United Center rims. Six-all. A Luol Deng jumper puts them up 8-6 under six minutes. And Rasheed ties it back up at eight. And Gordon unties it again.
Is that Michael Sweetney handing out Gatorade bottles? Oh wait, that’s just some other fat guy.
Billups on the baseline out of the timeout. 10-all. And Tyrus Thomas checks in early to much applause. Hinrich misses, and Deng gets the board and flips an oop to Thomas coming through the lane. Tayshaun answers immediately, and Hinrich comes back and buries a short jumper. 14-12, Bulls.
Billups comes down the lane, gets goaltended by a FLYING Tyrus Thomas. Tough call. And Deng scores on a tough layup. 16-14 Bulls with 3:12 to go. Tayshaun misses, and Thomas rips down the rebound. Big Ben tosses up…something, and Hamilton ties it up with a floater over Ben.
Hinrich with a jumper in transition—well, delayed transition—off a Rasheed miss. Tyrus fouls Webber underneath—non-shooting—and Rip scores on the drive. The Bulls toss it all around, and it gets back to Deng for a jumper.
With the clock winding down, Billups fires up a 30-footer with seven or eight seconds left—what? Rasheed gets the rebound, it’s knocked out of bounds by the Bulls, and Webber’s baseline jumper on the inbounds is blocked by Ben Wallace. Bulls lead 20-18 after 1. That’s more like the Bulls I remember.
Rasheed gets in deep and is met by a mess o’ Bulls. Out of bounds to Chicago. Pretty much the same thing happens on the other end, only the ball doesn’t go out of bounds. No easy baskets.
Thabo Sefolosha to P.J. Brown, who’s fouled by Rasheed. That’s two.
Luol misses a J, Antonio McDyess misses a J, Luol misses another one, and Rip doesn’t. Hinrich comes back with a layup—he’s already got a much better line than last game.
Sefolosha gets a little fancy on the break with a behind-the-back dribble in stride, but gets fouled by Hamilton. He misses both free throws.
Travelling, Lindsey Hunter. Who still looks fabulous.
Thomas misses an 18-footer, Andres Nocioni tries to draw a charge on Prince (but fouls) and Tayshaun hits off glass. 22’s with 8:11 to go in the 2nd.
Mike Breen goes on an extended riff comparing the current Pistons to the championship-era Knicks. Senator Rasheed?
P.J. Brown scores underneath, and Ben Wallace comes up with a block, a knockaway, and a putback dunk off a missed Chapu three. 26-22, Chicago. OK, 24. Rip Hamilton is tough tonight.
P.J. Brown, again. Jumper from up top set up by a Hinrich drive. Rip misses from the elbow, Nocioni rebounds and leads the break, which ends with a Gordon jumper. Time out, Detroit. Chicago leads 30-24.
Magnus ver Magnusson? Michael Johnson? Is Pete Coors running out of money or what?
Kirk Hinrich, airball.
Apparently Ben Wallace was 15 minutes late tonight. The way he’s playing so far, they may as well make that his regular time to arrive. Ben Gordon hits again—32-24. And Rip answers. And P.J. Brown scores again. And Nocioni hits a three to give the Bulls a double-digit lead, 37-26. Time out, Detroit.
The Pistons can’t get ANYTHING done in the post. Excellent defense by Ben Wallace and P.J. Brown throughout the first half.
Deng gets snuffed by Carlos Delfino in the paint, heads to the line. Both. 39-26 Chicago with a minute to go in the half. Gordon gets loose on the break, Hamilton catches him and knocks it out of bounds. But it comes back into BG in the corner, who’s fouled by Jason Maxiell and hits a pair. 41-26.
Rasheed gets stripped on the baseline, and on the other end the Bulls convert a sloppy possession (P.J. Brown’s diving around like he’s 15 years younger) with a Luol Deng and-one underneath. 44-26 Chicago. Crazy.
And Rip gets fouled on a drive by Sefolosha, giving the Pistons their first free throws of the night. He hits both, the Bulls turn it over off the inbounds, and the first half ends with a 44-28 lead (Bulls won the second quarter 24-10.) Ben Wallace is with Jim Gray afterwards, saying pretty much what he’s been saying all year. That was a vicious defensive half for Chicago.
Rasheed Wallace with a jumper in the paint to open up the third. And Deng comes right back with a jump hook from same. Rasheed around P.J. can’t get it in a second try, Hinrich comes away with it. He can’t score underneath on the other end, but Wallace is there to get the rebound and get fouled. Makes one of two from the line, and P.J. comes away with the rebound while tiptoeing the baseline. The Bulls reset, and Gordon is fouled by Webber on the drive. Makes both. 49-30, Bulls.
Bernie Fryer scares me.
Webber draws the foul on Brown, misses both, but winds up with the rebound on a backtap from Sheed—and they get their first three of the game. The Bulls follow it with a bad pass turnover, and Billups is fouled by Gordon, his second. Both. 49-35, Bulls.
Ben Wallace misses inside, and Prince is fouled on the rebound. That’s three team fouls on the Bulls with over nine minutes to play in the third.
P.J. Brown with another free throw line jumper set up by Hinrich. Billups misses, Deng rebounds, but they can’t finish on the other end.
Webber rims one in and out—he’s 0 for 5—and Hinrich grabs his ninth rebound. Gordon gets fouled, heads to the line, hits a pair. 53-35, Bulls.
But Gordon picks up his third on the other end, grimaces. Gets switched from Billups over to Rip, and Billups hits a three. Gordon with the stop and pop, Big Ben gets the board, and Hinrich hits a tough jumper over CB on the baseline. Prince answers quickly with a shot off glass.
And Prince, again. Hook over Luol Deng.
Hinrich wants a goaltend, doesn’t get it, and Billups splashes one over Kirk, falling into the Bulls bench—right on Tyrus Thomas’s lap. Bulls lead is cut to 11.
The gliding camera is indeed sickening.
Ben Wallace is probably the only player in the L who occasionally takes shots where the closest the ball ever gets to the basket is when it’s still in his hands. It’s remarkable, really.
Prince hits a jumper to pull the Pistons to within nine, and the Bulls turn it over. Rasheed airballs a three, but Rip is right there to lay it in. 55-48, Bulls. Another Bulls turnover (bad pass, Gordon) and Rasheed can’t finish underneath no matter how loud he yells. (Of course Deng can’t either, and Billups gets it in to Prince for an easy dunk.) 55-50, Bulls. Time out.
SPLIT SCREEN. Whew, I was starting to get worried there.
Meanwhile, I think Luol Deng scores. And Prince answers with a tip-in of a Rasheed miss. And Nocioni comes right back. 59-52. And Nocioni again, with an open layup off a Deng feed. And of course Billups comes back with a step-back three, and then finds McDyess for a point-blank lay-in. 61-57.
Deng gets seriously and emphatically rejected by Rasheed—yikes—Ben Gordon gets the loose ball, and the shot clock expires. And Rasheed comes down and strokes a three as the quarter buzzer goes off, and it’s a one-point game at the end of three, and the crowd is kind of quiet right now. 61-60 Bulls after three. (The Pistons scored more in the third quarter than they did in the first half.)
P.J. Brown is still diving, but the Pistons want it a little bit more. Loose ball recovered by Rasheed, but the Pistons can’t convert, and McDyess commits a loose-ball foul.
Deng bricks a floater.
Rasheed with a turnaround over Deng, and the Pistons take their first lead in a very long time. We’re under 10 minutes.
Gordon shoots an airball from the corner, but Deng is alone underneath—he grabs the rebound and flips it in.
And then Prince pumpfakes Noc out of his shorts and takes it straight to the rim for the dunk and the foul. Misses the free throw, but the Pistons are up again. Hinrich fixes that. 65-64, Chicago.
Billups is blocked by Deng, but P.J. goes back on the floor AGAIN and fouls Antonio McDyess. Billups misses a three, Gordon rips down a rebound in traffic, and Deng is fouled on the floor underneath. Time out.
Billups to Maxiell, who does not fake the funk on the nasty dunk. He then blocks P.J. Brown (who admittedly is old enough to be his great-uncle). Pistons can’t convert, Dyess fouls on the rebound again, and Hamilton fouls Deng (that’s five team fouls with seven-plus left) on the other end. One of two, but Brown gets the board. This is probably his best playoff game since he suplexed Charlie Ward.
Only there’s a loose ball foul on the Bulls, and Billups drops a three, and the Bulls turn it over again with a BG travel. Rasheed misses a three—badly—from up top, and P.J. gets fouled on the drive by McDyess. Free throws comin’ right up. One of two. Rasheed gets another look at a three and knocks this one down. Another Bulls turnover (14) “really a recipe for disaster,” says Jax, and Hinrich gets called for a trip. Time out with 5:32 to go in the game. Bulls have eight field goals and 10 turnovers in the third.
Chauncey Billups! Mr. Big Shot! Pistons up 74-67. Gordon misses, Prince gets the rebound in the lane. “For the Pistons, Chauncey Billups is looking like Quincy Jones in his prime!” Mark, I have no idea what you mean, but I’m with you. (I guess I sort of know, but still.)
Hinrich with a much-needed three from up top. 74-70 Detroit with 3:45 to go.
McDyess gets the offensive board and is loose-ball fouled himself by P.J. To the line. One of two. 75-70. Deng misses short, gets his own, misses again, and P.J. comes down with it and gets fouled. Back to the line. One of two.
Inside three minutes.
Billups with a tough shot over Kirk, draws the foul, misses. One of two.
Gordon gets blocked, Dyess comes up with it, Sheed isolates against Big Ben, and fires up an airball. 24-second violation—Detroit’s first turnover of the HALF.
Hinrich, no good on the long jumper, and we’re inside of two. Rasheed on the other block against Ben, can’t hit that either, but Ben knocks it out of bounds. Billups gets a GREAT look at a layup off a drive, but misses everything, and the Bulls come back and Nocioni draws a foul underneath. And misses both. Badly. Pressure?
Billups misses a three by a mile as Wallace and Hinrich can’t quite sort out who goes over and who goes under, the Bulls rebound, and Skiles calls for time. 1:05 remaining.
Nocioni gets a quick open three out of the time out, but can’t convert. Prince rebounds and is immediately fouled. We’re under a minute, and Prince hits both. Pistons up seven. Gordon misses a three, Billups comes up with it, and Deng has to foul. Fans are headed for the exits. One of two. Up eight. Hinrich misses a three, and Rasheed fouls Deng on the putback. To the line with 35.5 to go. And the Bulls have been missing free throws ALL NIGHT. Deng misses the first, and the second. The Bulls get it back, but deep in their own backcourt. They still can’t hit anything. Plenty of chances, but time is against them. Finally Prince comes up with it and is fouled by Ben Wallace with 8.3 seconds left. Prince hits both.
Deng gets an and-one on a layup, but there’s only 3.1 on the clock. He hits the free throw—and they don’t foul. Ballgame. Final score, 81-74 Pistons.
Well, the Bulls had to win and they didn’t. After they dominated a defensive-oriented first half that had the announcers throwing around plenty of (well-deserved) accolades, the Pistons put the hammer down. Chauncey Billups ran the show, Rip Hamilton hit the big shots, Rasheed Wallace got it done on both ends of the floor, and Detroit pounded their way to a seven-point win on the road despite Chris Webber’s second EVER scoreless NBA game (and a 16-point halftime deficit). Oh yeah, and that doesn’t even mention Tayshaun Prince, the game’s high scorer with 23.
The start of this series brought on a lot of reminiscence about the Bad Boys versus Michael Jordan, and talk of a renewed rivalry in the Central. Not so soon, people. Because a rivalry takes two teams, and with the utmost respect to my Bulls, they’re just not there yet.