Detroit — For three quarters, the Pistons looked as if they were going to take another playoff team down to the wire, and maybe get another surprising win.
This time, they couldn’t close the deal.
All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine lived at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter and got some clutch shots to fall in the final minutes, lifting the Chicago Bulls to a 114-108 victory on Wednesday night at Little Caesars Arena.
Cade Cunningham had 22 points, four assists and six rebounds, Saddiq Bey 12 points and six assists and Jerami Grant 12 points and three rebounds for the Pistons (18-48), who had won six of their previous eight games.
“We played well tonight but now when you get the spotlight on you, you’ve got to continue to do things well the entire game,” coach Dwane Casey said.
The Pistons had their biggest lead of the game, 99-92, after back-to-back 3-pointers by Rodney McGruder with 9:01 left in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls (40-26) responded with an 11-0 run, with four points from DeRozan (36 points, eight rebounds and four assists) and six from LaVine (25 points and five rebounds).
Bey ended the run with a midrange jumper, but the Bulls kept charging, with a drive by LaVine and two straight baskets in the paint by DeRozan for a 109-101 lead at the 3:20 mark.
Cory Joseph got the Pistons close with a 3-pointer to get within five, but DeRozan made one of two free throws to keep the Pistons at bay.
“Overall, it was a solid effort,” said Kelly Olynyk, who had 12 points, four rebounds and four assists. “We played 40 minutes of really good basketball and we just went cold at the wrong time of the game.”
DeRozan was the catalyst for the Bulls, going 12-of-25 from the field and 12-of-13 on free throws, giving the Pistons problems inside the arc. When he wasn’t finding room on his midrange game, he was getting to the free-throw line because of pump-fakes and getting past defenders.
He had 16 points in the fourth quarter and the Pistons managed just 17 points.
“He’s playing at a high level and they were playing with a level of desperation down the stretch,” Casey said. “Hats off to him — he’s playing the best basketball he’s played.”
The Pistons had an impressive third quarter, scoring 35 points, including three straight baskets by Bagley, who joined the starting lineup with the absence of Isaiah Stewart, who will be out at least a week because of bone bruise in his right knee.
The free-throw line was the difference in the fourth quarter, with the Bulls going 11-of-13, and DeRozan and LaVine combining to go 8-of-9. The Pistons went just 1-of-2 on free throws in the final period.
“We gifted him to the free-throw line 13 times and they shot 35 free throws to our 17, and I need to go back and look at how we got in that situation,” Casey said. “(DeRozan) is playing at a high level and they were playing with a level of desperation down the stretch.”
The Pistons also dominated with their second unit, with a 43-19 margin, but they couldn’t duplicate the effort in the second half.
“In the first half, (the bench was strong). I think we had a seven-point lead, and then it dwindled down a little bit, but the bench came in and gave us great energy,” Casey said.
“(Hamidou Diallo) came back and gave us great energy. Saben (Lee) came in and gave us great energy and (Isaiah) Livers. It’s a four-quarter game, so when you come in that next stint, you’ve got to really come in and do your job.”