Pistons beat Bulls, finish with 39 wins
Chicago — It’s not the finish to the season that they wanted, but the Pistons still wrapped up the year the way they started it, with a victory.
But Game No. 82 is the disappointing end to what was a promising start to the season.
The 80 games in between the two wins didn’t quite go so well. They’ll start the long offseason with more questions than answers about their long-term future, but reveled in one last victory for the season.
Without three starters, the Pistons put together a good offensive performance, with 66 points in the first half, on the way to a 119-87 rout over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night at United Center in the season finale.
The Pistons finished the season at 39-43 and in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, four games behind the Washington Wizards for the final playoff spot. They’ll miss the postseason for the ninth time in the last 10 years.
“When you get to the end of any year — and we had high expectations for this year — and not be in the playoffs and be done tonight, it’s disappointing,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I’ve seen enough from our team in terms of results and the way guys have played, that I know this is a good team if we’re healthy.”
Luke Kennard finished his rookie season with a career-high 23 points and Anthony Tolliver scored 16 of his 18 points in the first quarter. Eric Moreland notched his second double-double of the season, with career highs of 16 points, 17 rebounds, four steals and four blocks and four assists.
Blake Griffin (ankle), Andre Drummond (sore Achilles) and Reggie Bullock (knee soreness) sat out the finale, but the reserves more than picked up the slack.
“I’ll take it. It feels good; it’s better with a win,” Moreland said. “I got a chance to play some minutes with Andre not playing and took advantage of it. We played together and played hard and came out with a win.”
Tolliver started the game sizzling, scoring 13 points in the first 4:31, including three 3-pointers. The Bulls jumped ahead, 12-7, in the first four minutes, but Tolliver answered with back-to-back 3-pointers and a driving dunk.
That ignited a 15-0 run, with a hook by Moreland, two free throws from Kennard and a 3-pointer by Stanley Johnson (11 points), for a 22-12 lead. The Bulls ended the spurt with a putback by Lauri Markkanen (20 points and eight rebounds) for the Bulls (27-55).
The Pistons finished the quarter on a 13-5 run, with back-to-back jumpers by Kennard, followed by another 3-pointer from Tolliver. They led, 35-21, after the first period and continued to pour it on with their reserves in the second.
Kennard said increased playing time was one of the keys to him getting more comfortable and hitting his stride.
“The speed of the game slowed down as the season went along; that was one of the big adjustments,” he said. “It’s a big jump in levels of basketball: high school to college to the NBA. The speed of the game slowed down a little bit and I got more comfortable.”
The lead ballooned to 46-27 in the first four-plus minutes, with back-to-back baskets by Henry Ellenson (14 points and 10 rebounds) and a 3-pointer and jumper from Ish Smith (13 points) and a dunk by Moreland.
The Pistons led, 66-50, at halftime and pushed the margin to 94-74 after the third quarter, with a 6-2 push in the final 1:40 of the period. The Bulls, pushing for a high pick in the draft, didn’t threaten in the fourth quarter.
Here are some other observations from the finale:
■Anthony Tolliver showed his expanded repertoire, scoring on reverse lay-ins, dunks, 3-pointers and flashed some ball-movement skills. He’s a free agent after the season and with the desire to develop some of the younger players at power forward, he could seek greener pastures elsewhere. If this was his finale, he acquitted himself well in the last few weeks of the season.
■With Drummond out, Eric Moreland played a career-high 41 minutes and got a very Drummond-like stat line (16 points, 17 rebounds, four assists, four steals and four blocks). He showed better energy for a more sustained period and was aggressive in going to the basket. Defensively, he’s had some improvement this season and was lauded by coach Stan Van Gundy for his contributions as a role player.
■Kennard looked smoother in his offensive approach, getting to the rim and attacking the Bulls reserves. He got more playing time as the season wore on and seemed to get more comfortable in the role. He’ll have a bigger role next season, with some improvement in his game.