Behind Zach LaVine’s 43 points, Bulls pull away late to beat Pistons

It wasn’t easy, and for three-plus quarters it wasn’t pretty. But the Bulls locked down the undermanned Pistons in the last four minutes to win for the fifth time in their last six games.

SHARE Behind Zach LaVine’s 43 points, Bulls pull away late to beat Pistons
Zach LaVine

It should have been an easy night, but that’s just not how this Bulls team chooses to operate.

It could be a lack of urgency or a penchant for taking weaker teams for granted. Or maybe this is just what NBA mediocrity looks like.

After planting the flag on their signature victory of the season Wednesday — a come-from-behind overtime triumph against the Bucks — the Bulls chose to spend the first three quarters of their game Friday going back and forth with the nine-win Pistons.

The Pistons were without Killian Hayes and Hamidou Diallo because of a bench-clearing brawl this week against the Magic and have been missing prized second-year guard Cade Cunningham for most of the season with a stress fracture in his left leg.

Easy pickings on paper? It was for Bulls guard Zach LaVine, at least. He scored 18 points in the first quarter and finished with a season-high 43 in an eventual 132-118 victory.

‘‘You don’t always want to have [these close games],’’ LaVine said afterward. ‘‘[The Pistons] were making some tough shots, but I think the last four minutes we really locked in and got some good stops.

‘‘On any given night, any one of us can go off for a game like that. You don’t want to count on it, but I think offensively we’re fine each and every game. One of us three or four is capable of having a good game, can carry the offense.’’

Now if the Bulls only can find that consistency with their defense.

The Bulls again didn’t show a killer instinct against a lesser opponent, especially defensively. They already have losses to the Magic, Spurs and Thunder on their résumé and recently allowed the Timberwolves to score 150 points against them.

Yet they also have a combined 7-1 record against the Heat, Bucks, Celtics and Nets this season.

Head-scratching? Definitely.

Especially after the Bulls outscored the Pistons 33-25 in the first quarter, only to turn around and let them score 33 in the second.

And the Bulls’ response in the third quarter it didn’t exactly resemble that of a team that seemed to be finding itself just before the halfway point of the season.

The Pistons came out in the third quarter and scored another 34 points against the Bulls’ defense.

The Bulls were nursing a three-point lead going into the fourth but finally restored some order. Former Pistons big man Andre Drummond got the Bulls going in the quarter with a nasty dunk on which he was fouled.

After Coby White made a three-pointer with 10:40 left, the Bulls’ lead was up to nine, and it appeared the rout might be on.

Not with these Bulls, however. A three-pointer by Saddiq Bey and layup by Bojan Bogdanovic with 5:32 left enabled the Pistons to tie the score.

But that was when the Bulls took control for good, thanks to DeMar DeRozan. He made a 14-foot jumper, then sank two free throws to spark the decisive push. By the time it was over, the Bulls had gone on an 11-1 run to leave the Pistons behind.

‘‘I think defensively, when we’re all locked in, then we’re going to be good,’’ LaVine said.

And while it wasn’t pretty, in the big picture, the Bulls now have won five of their last six games.

‘‘I thought we finished well,’’ coach Billy Donovan said. ‘‘I think the rebounding and the fouling was something we can be better at.’’

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