AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP)—The Detroit Pistons’ usual defense didn’t arrive until the final 20 seconds Wednesday night.
That was all they needed.
With less than 30 seconds to play, the Bulls had already scored 37 points in the fourth and had the ball again, trailing by just a point.
But Rasheed Wallace stripped Ben Gordon, then hit two free throws to make it a three-point game. Chicago still had a chance to tie, but Ben Wallace got a piece of Andres Nocioni’s 3-pointer and Rasheed Wallace hit two more free throws to clinch the game.
“We just stuck with it,” said Richard Hamilton, one of four players to score at least 11 points in the fourth. “We kept playing, and then we made the key stops we needed down the stretch.”
The Pistons outscored Chicago 38-37 in the final 12 minutes—the most points either team had scored or allowed in a fourth quarter this season. Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace each had 14 for Detroit, while Nocioni (15) and Gordon (11) combined for 26 for Chicago.
“That was kind of fun,” said Chauncey Billups, who led the Pistons with 27 points. “It was a high-tempo shootout until the end. Our offense is good, and we have some great offensive players, but defense is still what we do.”
Rasheed Wallace scored 25 points for Detroit, and Hamilton had 24.
Gordon had 28 for Chicago and Nocioni finished with 23.
“We need to play like this every night,” Nocioni said. “We lost, but we played hard and aggressive. If we play like this every night, we’ll win a lot of games.”
Detroit led 68-64 entering the fourth, but Hamilton and Billups combined for nine points in the first 2 minutes of the period—seven by Hamilton—to put the Pistons ahead 77-67.
Gordon hit back-to-back 3-pointers to keep Chicago in the game, but the Bulls were unable to get the stops they needed to pull even.
“I think it came down to that we beat ourselves,” Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. “We wanted to win this game, and we felt like we should have won this game.”
A pair of 3s from Nocioni and Gordon made it 97-95 with 1:58 to go, but Rasheed Wallace calmly drained a 3-pointer at the other end—the eighth of the quarter—to move the lead back to five points.
After the teams traded baskets, Gordon hit a running jumper and Nocioni made two free throws after Wallace’s miss to make it 102-101 with 41 seconds left.
That, though, was the last good thing to happen to the Bulls.
“I’m happy we played hard, but that should be a given,” Chicago coach Scott Skiles said. “Our guys fought right until the end, but at this level, there are no moral victories. It’s a game we should have won.”
Chicago dominated the first half—outshooting the Pistons 54 percent to 35 percent—but only led 48-41 at halftime.
“The first game back after a West Coast trip is always dangerous,” Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. “I thought we had terrible energy and terrible passion in the first half. We seemed very disinterested.”
The Pistons went ahead 54-53 midway through the third, and the teams traded the lead until Billups’ 3-pointer helped Detroit take a 68-64 edge into the final period.
Tayshaun Prince limped off the court early in the third quarter after banging knees with Tyson Chandler on a layup, but returned for the fourth quarter. Prince said after the game that he was fine. … The win gave the Pistons a sweep of the four-game season series with Chicago. The Bulls have only beaten Detroit twice in the last 16 meetings. … The Bulls made six of their first seven 3-pointers in the fourth, but missed their last two.