for this game

Bulls defeat Pistons, avoid four-game sweep

May 14, 2007 - 1:04 AM CHICAGO (Ticker) -- The Chicago Bulls showed some pride. The Detroit Pistons showed some vulnerability.

Ben Wallace, Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon had their best games as the Bulls avoided their first postseason sweep in 20 years with a 102-87 victory Sunday over the Pistons that prolonged their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Luol Deng had 25 points and 13 rebounds for the Bulls, who again got off to a good start and this time avoided the collapse that cost them Game Three, putting them on the business end of the broom.

"We looked much more like ourselves tonight," Chicago coach Scott Skiles said. "We played harder overall and they missed more shots than they have. We certainly didn't coast in with the win, that's for sure. Things got a little hairy in the fourth quarter."

Chicago has not been swept in any series since 1987 and in a best-of-seven series since 1981, both at the hands of Boston.

"I don't care who it is, we are a better team than getting swept in a series four games straight," Wallace said of almost being swept by his former team. "We need to still come out and fight."

The Bulls easily could have succumbed to the most demoralizing statistic in sports: NBA teams facing a 3-0 deficit are 0-for-81 all-time. Instead, Chicago played by far its best all-around game of the series, shooting 49 percent (35-of-71) from the field and dominating the backboards, 51-33.

"This win means we are still alive and we live for another day," Hinrich said. "Right now we have to take it one game at a time, we know we will have to play our best game of the year Tuesday in game five."

Leading the way was Wallace, who had been the emotional leader of the Pistons for six years before joining the Bulls this season. He was criticized for his poor play in this series but responded with 11 points and 17 rebounds.

"I thought we played well and played like we can play," Wallace said. "We had good energy and everybody stepped up, it was good to get a win and stay alive."

"He did a great job, he made all the big plays in the open court," Gordon said of Wallace. "It seemed like he got to every loose ball."

Wallace also had a pair of blocks and foiled the "Bang-a-Ben" strategy of purposely fouling him used late by the Pistons, sinking 3-of-4 free throws.

"Ben was great tonight, he was all over the floor," Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups said. "Ben did what he normally does and that is hit the boards, he did what he is expected to do."

Hinrich had a solid game with 19 points and 10 assists. He teamed with Deng to carry the offense in the first half while the Bulls continued to wait for Gordon to snap out of his funk.

That finally happened in the second half, when Gordon scored 15 of his 19 points. He had nine points in the fourth quarter, squelching a comeback by the Pistons.

"We are not a bad team," Gordon said. "In the first two games we didn't play well, game three we played well and did not pull it out. Today we kept them out of the zone and that was the key to the game, that might be the key to the series."

Billups had 23 points and eight assists for the Pistons, who were denied a chance at consecutive four-game sweeps for the first time in franchise history.

"Coming here and winning one game is good even though we wanted to win two," Billups said. "Now we go home for Game Five and being up 3-1 is a lot better than 2-2."

Detroit shot 37 percent (31-of-83), had three players foul out and endured another scoreless game from center Chris Webber, who also was blanked in Game Three.

Still, the Pistons cut a 21-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to 90-83 with just over three minutes to go. The top seeds are secure in heading home for Game Five on Wednesday, when they will try to wrap up their fifth straight trip to the conference finals.

"It will be nice to get back to the palace for Game Five," Hamilton said. "I think we will be ready and so will our fans."

"It doesn't matter where we play if we play like we did tonight, we will not win the next game," Detroit coach Flip Saunders said. "We can't keep expecting to come back or rely on our crowd, they are not going to make one shot for us."

Skiles knows of the challenge his team now faces heading back to Detroit.

"It will be an interesting game, our guys have not gone through this in that kind of atmosphere yet," Skiles said. "They do not want to come back here (Chicago) and they have blown us out twice up there, it will not be easy to win."

Detroit was awful in the third quarter, managing 13 points on 5-of-22 shooting and falling behind, 77-56. But the Pistons snapped out of their funk in the final period, getting the Bulls in foul trouble and cutting the deficit to 82-73 on a jumper by Billups with 6:37 left.

Two free throws by Billups made it 87-80 before Gordon responded with a 3-pointer. Billups sank a 3-pointer at the 2:47 mark, and the Pistons twice intentionally fouled Wallace, the worst free-throw shooter in NBA history. But the big man made 3-of-4 shots, and Detroit missed at the other end after each trip.

"I thought they played more energized," Saunders said. "We started out slow and came back in the second half but didn't finish the half. Every time we got close in the second half they would step up and hit a big shot."

Rookie Tyrus Thomas had 10 points and seven rebounds for the Bulls, keeping them afloat with a six-point burst midway through the fourth quarter. Tayshaun Prince scored 18 points and Rasheed Wallace added 14 for the Pistons.

The Bulls came out with the intention of avoiding a sweep, getting off to a quick start behind Deng and Hinrich. Both players scored eight points in the first period, when Chicago shot 60 percent and opened a 27-19 lead.

"I was able to play with good energy and hit my shots when I had open looks," Deng said. "The win was a good team effort, everyone stepped up and we played like we can play."

The Pistons opened the second quarter with a 16-4 spurt, taking a 35-31 lead on a 3-pointer by Rasheed Wallace, who made an ominous shot from the arc in Game Three that marked the beginning of the end for the Bulls.

This time, Chicago responded. Gordon, held scoreless to that point, had a bucket and two free throws in an 11-1 surge that closed the quarter and gave the Bulls a 50-43 lead.

Gordon averaged 25.5 points as Chicago swept defending champion Miami in the first round. However, he was averaging just 12.0 points in the first three games of this series.

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