This time, there was no collapse.
Luol Deng scored 25 points, Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon added 19 apiece, and the Bulls hung on to beat Detroit 102-87 in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday afternoon and avoid a sweep.
“I don’t care who it is, we are better than being swept in four games,” Ben Wallace said. “We just have to come out and fight.”
Unlike Game 3, when the Bulls saw a 19-point lead dissolve into a seven-point loss, Chicago withstood a late push by Detroit. The Bulls outscored the Pistons 27-13 in the third quarter to turn a seven-point halftime lead into a 77-56 advantage going into the fourth.
They didn’t flinch when Chauncey Billups hit two free throws with 3:55 left to cut it to 87-80, or when he answered Gordon’s 3-pointer with one of his own. That made it 90-83 with 2:46 remaining, but the Bulls hung on against a Pistons team that had won 12 of 13 closeout games.
“I think the feeling was we knew the run was coming,” Hinrich said. “You feel like the shift in momentum. We just needed to take a deep breath and just keep what we were doing to get there—moving the ball, keeping an up-tempo game and getting stops.”
The Bulls still have a long way to go to join the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders and 2004 Boston Red Sox as the only major pro teams to win a best-of-seven series after falling behind 3-0. The Pistons will try to wrap this one up Tuesday at The Palace of Auburn Hills, where they blew out Chicago in Games 1 and 2 after sweeping Orlando in the first round.
Deng was 10-of-15 after shooting 38 percent in the first three games and grabbed 13 rebounds.
“I just had good looks,” Deng said. “You make your first couple shots and your confidence goes up.”
Although he committed five turnovers, Hinrich added 10 assists and took a charge on Billups after Billups hit those free throws to pull within seven. Wallace delivered a vintage performance against his former team, grabbing 17 rebounds, and the Bulls held a 51-33 edge on the glass.
Wallace also scored 11 points and blocked two shots, while Tyrus Thomas provided a boost in the fourth quarter, scoring eight of his 10 points.
“I guess we realized finally we didn’t have anything to lose,” Hinrich said. “We just came out and we settled into ourselves tonight. We felt we had gotten away from what we had been successful doing throughout the season and throughout the playoffs so far this series.”
Billups led Detroit with 23 points. Tayshaun Prince added 18, but Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Chris Webber all had rough afternoons. Hamilton (11 points) was just 4-for-12. Wallace was just 4-for-16 and scored 14. Webber did not score.
“I’m disappointed we lost, disappointed we got beat, disappointed maybe we played at times out of character,” coach Flip Saunders said. “Got to get back to what we do well. When we take 25 3s, I think that showed we were settling too much and trying to take the easy way, try to hit the home run rather than hit the singles and grind it out.”
Billups pinned the loss on himself, saying, “(We) cut it all the way to seven. We grind it all the way, all the way, we had the play called and I saw the baseline open when I was about to turn. And I went to attack, we were in the bonus and I was ready to get to the free throw line. We were getting something every time, so I went to attack it and he was there for the charge.”
He said the call was a good one and added, “If it wasn’t for that, if we ran the play and got something different, maybe we cut it to five or four. And I think we would’ve went on to squeeze it.”
Chicago scored 12 of the first 14 points in the second half to make it 62-45 midway through the third. The lead grew to 19 with 4:41 left in the quarter when Rasheed Wallace was called for a foul on Ben Wallace and got a technical. Gordon hit the technical free throw, and Ben Wallace went 1-of-2 to make it 67-48.
Moments later, after having his put-back blocked by Andres Nocioni, Prince held his arms out looking for a call. The Pistons were frustrated, appeared to be losing their cool. They collected themselves in the fourth, and when they made that run, Chicago’s P.J. Brown acknowledged he experienced some flashbacks.
“A little bit,” he said. “The biggest difference is we stayed aggressive. We didn’t relax. The other night, we had a big lead, and instead of continuing to do the things that got us to the 19-point lead, we relaxed and weren’t aggressive.”
The Bulls led 50-43 at the half and pulled away in the third quarter, when Detroit was just 5-of-22 and was outrebounded 21-7.
“We came out at halftime and didn’t respond like we did in Game 3,” Prince said.
And the Bulls had a different answer when things got tense.
“We’re not concerned at all,” Rasheed Wallace said. “Our hats off to them, they won the game, you got to respect them for that, they play hard today, but we will go and play hard on Tuesday.”
The Pistons are 8-4 all-time when trying to complete a sweep. … The Bulls have not been swept in a playoff series since losing in three games to Boston in the first round in 1987. The last time they were swept in a best-of-seven was against the Celtics in the 1981 conference semifinals. … Billups and Hamilton fouled out in the final minute. … Webber was 0-for-8 with four rebounds and did not score in the two games in Chicago. That came on the heels of a 22-point effort in Game 2.