When Ben Wallace makes like Rick Barry, perhaps the Bulls' fortunes are set to change.
That Wallace hit a career-high eight straight free throws was as surprising as the Bulls finally resembling themselves in a gritty 98-91 road victory over the Central Division-leading Pistons.
That's five straight quarters of solid Bulls basketball for those scoring at home, no small achievement in this most disappointing of starts.
The Bulls harassed the Pistons into 39.5 percent shooting, piled up a monster 20-5 edge in second-chance points and enjoyed a huge rebounding advantage, all ingredients they must have for success.
"We're playing more like a team and with more confidence," Andres Nocioni said. "I believe we're starting to play like we play, move the ball, drive to the basket, take the open shot and play hard on defense. This is how we need to play."
Nocioni led the way with a team-high 22 points, taking over when the game turned late in the third quarter.
With the Bulls trailing 67-63, Nocioni began driving aggressively to the basket on virtually every possession, either converting a layup in traffic or dishing off one of his season-high five assists.
Nocioni scored seven points during the ensuing 16-4 run, which was capped by five straight points from Joakim Noah. Nocioni fed the rookie on both his baskets and the possession on which Noah made one of two free throws.
"When it came down to it, we couldn't guard Nocioni," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "We tried to stay big and he either took threes or drove around us. We just couldn't contain him at all."
For the second straight game, coach Scott Skiles rode Nocioni and Chris Duhon down the stretch, playing both players the entire fourth quarter. Skiles shortened his rotation and, with Duhon and Noah hitting double figures, the Bulls' bench outscored the Pistons' 45-14.
"That's one of our best draw-and-kick games," Duhon said. "We missed some shots, but they were wide-open good shots. But the main thing is our defense. It's starting to pick up and play to the level we know we're capable of playing."
Indeed, the Bulls snapped the Pistons' five-game winning streak and have now won four straight regular-season games against a perennial Eastern Conference contender.
The Pistons, led by Chauncey Billups' 27 points, made one last run to pull within 86-83. But Luol Deng swished a huge wing jumper with 2 minutes 40 seconds remaining and Nocioni then stole the ball from Billups to set up Duhon for a three-pointer with 2:21 remaining.
By the time Nocioni—who else?—scored on a driving layup to cap five straight scoring possessions, the Bulls led 97-88.
"They'll get things put back together," Saunders said of the Bulls. "They have too many good players not to."
Those players are looking more like they have in recent seasons.
"I thought beginning to end we made a lot of hustle plays," Skiles said. "The offensive boards kept us in the game early. We got after loose balls. In key moments, we got good stops. All around, it was a great effort."
Wallace finished with 10 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks to augment his career performance from the free-throw line.
"Saw a special night," Skiles said.
He was talking about Wallace's free throws. But he could have been talking about the Bulls' performance.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times