Bulls feel at home in Paris with 126-108 win over Pistons

“You kind of see it with a lot of teams on the road where you just have that electric atmosphere,’’ DeMar DeRozan said. “You just go out there and compete a little bit more.”

SHARE Bulls feel at home in Paris with 126-108 win over Pistons
The Bulls’ Zach LaVine dribbles past the Pistons’ Killian Hayes Thursday in Paris.

The Bulls’ Zach LaVine dribbles past the Pistons’ Killian Hayes Thursday in Paris.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

PARIS — The streets were in a frenzy all day Thursday as transportation workers throughout France were protesting the government’s changing of the pension plan.

Entire neighborhoods near the Bastille were in gridlock, police were in full riot gear and historic monuments were spray-painted.

But the night in Paris belonged to the NBA and the Bulls.

Thanks to a game-high 30 points from Zach LaVine, the Bulls handled the Pistons 126-108 in the Paris Game 2023 in front of a sellout crowd at the Accor Arena.

And while it counted as a regular-season game, it didn’t feel anything like it for the players.

Tickets sold out immediately when the game was announced months ago, and getting tickets on the street was next to impossible in the NBA-starved city.

The Pistons were the purported home team, but 85% of the fans were rooting for the Bulls.

“Seeing it first person is a lot better,’’ LaVine said after the victory. “How the Bulls brand and recognition was prevalent. Right through starting lineups, anytime anyone scored, you heard a big portion of the crowd roar. It was beautiful.’’

The Bulls played some aesthetically pleasing ball, as well, never trailing from tipoff to final buzzer.

Nikola Vucevic set the tone early, scoring the first four points of the game, then assisting on a three-pointer by Patrick Williams, but he stepped aside as DeMar DeRozan got the crowd on its feet with a thunderous one-handed dunk.

Not too shabby for a veteran who was sidelined three games with an injured right quadriceps but returned just in time for the showcase event.

“You kind of see it with a lot of teams on the road where you just have that electric atmosphere,’’ DeRozan said. “You’ve got that extra step, extra juice in you.

“Definitely a privilege to be playing in Paris, and you want to leave a lasting impression, for sure.’’

The second half became an in-game dunk contest between LaVine and Derrick Jones Jr. On volume alone, Jones was the clear winner.

More important, the Bulls (21-24) were sharing the basketball and running an unselfish offense for a second consecutive game. They were finally playing like they understood where they were in the season and what was at stake as the Feb. 9 trade deadline approaches.

Seven Bulls scored in double figures.

Meanwhile, the Pistons had their own French connection going. The worst team in the Eastern Conference remained right where they wanted to be — sitting at 12-36 and still a real contender to win the draft lottery and nab French sensation Victor Wembanyama.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan, however, was concerned about his own team and hoping that it took away something important from the trip.

“When you get a chance to go to a different country and see people that maybe follow the NBA in ways with the time change — and who knows what hours of the morning, flipping on games or taping games — it’s great for people here in Paris to get an up-close look at the NBA,’’ Donovan said. “It makes you realize the sport is followed so closely around the world. It was amazing that the place was sold out and the enthusiasm.’’

LaVine certainly was impressed and might have already connected with his travel agent.

“I’m definitely coming back to Paris,’’ LaVine said. “Maybe for a long trip.’’

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