Pistons come up a little short in season opener against Bulls, 94-88

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — Even if the Pistons don’t end up being a playoff team this season, they look like they’ll be fun to watch, and play hard in most games.

Against the Chicago Bulls — who, by most accounts, will be a tough playoff-level team — the Pistons made a statement and stayed close throughout the regular-season opener.

In the end, they came up a little short in the final minutes, and the Bulls held on for a 94-88 victory on Wednesday night at Little Caesars Arena.

Jerami Grant had 24 points and six rebounds, Saddiq Bey 13 points, nine rebounds and four assists and Isaiah Stewart 12 points and eight rebounds for the Pistons. They get a rematch with the Bulls on Saturday at United Center.

“I thought we played well defensively. The decisions offensively broke our back. Our margin for error was small. They made some tough shots and we missed a lot," coach Dwane Casey said. "It sounds simplistic, but we missed a lot of shots that we normally make — a lot of open threes. That's growing pains for us, I think (the Bulls) are a very powerful offensive team; they have a bunch of shotmakers."

The Pistons were in it until the final minute. After Grant hit a fadeaway jumper with 1:38 left, they were within 88-86, but they couldn’t get any closer. Zach LaVine (34 points, seven rebounds and four assists) hit six free throws in the final minute to push the lead to eight and the Pistons got two late baskets.

BOX SCORE: Bulls 94, Pistons 88

Defense was part of the story for the Pistons, holding the Bulls, who project to have one of the best offenses in the league, to just 94 points. It’s becoming a point of pride, hearkening back to the olden days for the Pistons.

"We held them under 100 and they're a great offensive team,” Stewart said. “We hang our hats on (defense) and that showed tonight."

The Pistons had good perimeter defense on LaVine and DeMar DeRozan (17 points), with their wings, Josh Jackson, Hamidou Diallo and Frank Jackson taking turns on the Bulls’ main scorers. LaVine played at an All-Star level, getting to the rim easily and hitting midrange jumpers that the Pistons couldn’t match defensively.

In the third quarter, the Pistons had a comfortable lead at 57-50, but LaVine got going and scored six straight points, with a dunk, two free throws on a clear-path foul and a baseline fadeaway.

Nikola Vucevic (15 points, 15 rebounds and four assists) added a 3-pointer and the Bulls pulled ahead, 59-57, at the 5:08 mark.

The Pistons answered with a back cut by Trey Lyles but Lonzo Ball (12 points, five rebounds and four assists) answered with a 3-pointer, and the Bulls were up by 3. The Pistons responded with back-to-back 3-pointers by Grant and Cory Joseph, but LaVine added another three-point play.

The Bulls took a 71-69 lead into the fourth quarter after consecutive baskets by rookie Ayo Dosunmu in the final minutes of the period.

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Down the stretch, the Bulls made the key plays, such as moving veteran Alex Caruso around to different spots, including defending the bigger Pistons players.

"We knew it was going to be tough, and (Alex) Caruso played good defense on Jerami,” Casey said. “Our passing decisions broke the rhythm of the game.”

The Pistons jumped back ahead after an 8-0 run early in the fourth quarter, with a 3-pointer by Josh Jackson, a lay-in by Olynyk off a nice pass by Lyles and a three-point play by Hamidou Diallo.

Chicago forward DeMar DeRozan tries to drive the ball past Detroit guard Josh Jackson during the fourth quarter.

The Pistons played well in the first quarter, with Josh Jackson getting the final two baskets of the period, for a 20-14 advantage. They stretched the lead to 26-17 early in the second quarter, with a jumper by Olynyk, two free throws and Trey Lyles a breakaway dunk.

They had their biggest lead, 28-19, at the 8:08 mark, on a hook by Olynyk. LaVine and Vucevic led the comeback, combining for 10 straight Bulls points over a four-minute stretch, with six points from LaVine.

Patrick Williams had two free throws and LaVine hit a 3-pointer to give the Bulls a 38-37 lead, but Grant made a 3-pointer and followed with two free throws to put the Pistons back ahead by four. Stewart finished the half with a lefty lay-in and the Pistons led, 44-40, at halftime.

Detroit forward Trey Lyles tries to drive the ball past Chicago forward DeMar DeRozan during the second quarter.