It could have been one of those nights — a game where the Bulls’ effort didn’t have to be as determined, where some of the details could be overlooked.
After all, it was only the Pistons. And the real threat comes Wednesday night when Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Kevin Durant and the Nets return to the United Center after the Bulls ran through them in two previous meetings this season.
Instead, the top team in the Eastern Conference treated the visiting Pistons like the 9-31 team they are in a 133-87 beatdown.
So much for the trap game.
Not that the Bulls didn’t show signs of a lethargic start. After an unlikely win over the Jazz on Monday night, the Pistons came out looking to surprise for a second straight game, and for about eight minutes they did, taking an eight-point lead while the Bulls didn’t seem very interested in controlling the boards or contesting shots.
But it doesn’t take much to get these Bulls engaged, and credit rookie Ayo Dosunmu for the latest spark. Coach Billy Donovan quickly inserted him for Derrick Jones Jr., and the game flipped around.
“Our team responded when [Dosunmu] was out there with some of the plays that he made,” Donovan said. “I thought when he came off the bench, we got right back into the game.”
The entire bench helped, led again by Coby White, as the Bulls outscored the Pistons 33-25 in the second quarter, shooting a ridiculous 67% from the field.
Unfortunately for the Pistons, the barrage was only getting started. The Bulls outscored them 36-14 in the third quarter behind 16 points from center Nikola Vucevic and some improved defense. The Bulls outrebounded the Pistons 22-8 in the quarter and held them to 4-for-21 from the field.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Vooch,” Donovan said. “He’s a guy that can course-correct in a game. He just kind of figures things out. He got everything involved that he can do offensively in that third quarter.”
Vucevic finished with a game-high 22 points, with the Bulls (27-11) getting 20 from DeMar DeRozan and 10 from Zach LaVine, who also had nine rebounds and seven assists.
Overall, it was a performance that was not only welcome but needed, as Donovan was able to use the fourth quarter as a showcase for his end-of-the-bench players, resting his regulars for what’s coming. After the nationally televised game with the Nets on Wednesday, the Bulls host the Warriors on Friday.
First things first.
“You want to be the best in the league, you’ve got to compete against the best,” DeRozan said. “I’m sure [the Nets are] going to come in here with some sort of revenge [in mind], complete, dynamic, three-headed-monster team that they are.”
And the fact ESPN picked up the game?
“I feel like if you do your job right, you get a raise,’’ DeRozan said. “You go out there and compete and you want to be watched.”