Bulls improve to 3-0 with win over Detroit, get defensive along the way
Lonzo Ball had a reputation as a great defensive player before joining the Bulls, and that quality was on display Saturday.
Lonzo Ball made quite an impact in a few minutes.
When the Bulls point guard reentered the game Saturday night against the Pistons with just under five minutes left in the first half, the home team held a five-point lead and the United Center crowd was eager for something to get them out of their seats.
Ball did just that, and not just once.
First was the ridiculous block on Pistons big man Isaiah Stewart at the rim, then a nifty strip of Jerami Grant, followed by more relentless pushing of the ball down the floor on the offensive end.
As the Bulls walked into the locker room for halftime, the lead was 11 — despite Zach LaVine’s scoring only four points — and the realization of just how special Ball could be was reiterated.
“He’s everywhere,’’ LaVine said. “Hits his open threes, pushes the transition, brings a real energy and physicality to the defensive end. All-around player, man. We’re glad to have him.’’
The Bulls went on to dismantle Detroit 97-82 to remain unbeaten. They are off to a 3-0 start for the first time since the 2016-17 season.
It again bears asking: While the Lakers moved on from Ball because of the addition of LeBron James and a changing of the landscape, what were the Pelicans thinking?
It seemed as if that organization was focused more on Ball’s weaknesses than his strengths.
LaVine had a different take.
“I feel like the media is the one that makes those narratives,’’ LaVine said, when asked why Ball’s game had been picked apart so frequently in the last few years. “It’s not the players. The players know who the real ballers are. It’s always about what you can do, not what you can’t, and [Ball] affects the game in so many ways. It trumps the things he’s not good at. And he works at the things he’s not good at. One of the hardest working guys on the team.’’
It’s contagious, especially on the defensive end.
The Bulls started the game in a 9-0 hole, before Nikola Vucevic scored a quick five and Ball nailed a three. And while the Pistons (0-2) played hard in the first half, their lack of talent eventually got exposed.
By the end of the third quarter the Bulls were up 79-54, and it was just a matter of getting out healthy and staying on the gas.
They accomplished both, as Ball followed his triple-double on Friday with 13 points and one assist. He led the team with four of their 11 blocks and registered three of their 13 steals.
Dirty work at its best.
“I made the comment when [Ball] first got in the league that he’s the kind of guy you want to play with because he’s so unselfish,’’ coach Billy Donovan said.
DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls with 21 points, and Vucevic added 15 points and 18 rebounds. LaVine had just 14 on a 6-for-18 shooting night, but grabbed five rebounds.
But the defense was the story.
“You want to give yourself a chance to win, and our defense did that for us,’’ Donovan said. “I was really impressed with our defense and what they were able to do.’’
Ball with the starters, and then Alex Caruso with the reserves, have been big reasons for that defensive effectiveness. Caruso led the team with five steals.
“It’s a next-game mentality and we expect to play this way,’’ LaVine said. “We’re competitive on both ends of the floor and it really shows.’’