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Published: Thursday, 5/17/2007

Bulls reignite, make Pistons squirm

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DEERFIELD, Ill. - Now, things could get really interesting.

The Chicago Bulls made a big statement when they routed Detroit 108-92 Tuesday, and the decibel level would jump again with a win tonight.

"At least we've made a series out of it," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said after yesterday's film session.

After falling behind 3-0 to the Pistons, the Bulls will try to pull even when the Eastern Conference semifinal shifts back to Chicago for Game 6. No NBA team has won a best-of-seven series after dropping the first three games and only three have forced a Game 7, the most recent being Portland against Dallas in the first round in 2003.

"They have some momentum right now," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "They won in our building, shot the ball very well. We have to find a way to regain momentum. For us, the first quarter is going to be huge."

The Pistons blew out the Bulls at the Palace at Auburn Hills in Games 1 and 2, then rallied from 19 down to take Game 3 in Chicago. Many thought Detroit would then wrap it up in four or five games, but the Bulls had other ideas.

They built a big lead in Game 4 and withstood a push by the Pistons in the fourth quarter on the way to a 102-87 victory. In Game 5, Ben Gordon scored 28 points and Chicago fell just shy of an NBA record by shooting 72.2 percent in the first half before finishing at 57.3 percent for the game.

Luol Deng had 20 points. P.J. Brown scored 15 and grabbed eight rebounds. And Kirk Hinrich finished with 17 points and 13 assists.

The Bulls set the pace, pushed the tempo. And suddenly, a Pistons defense that strangled them in the first three games, limiting Chicago to 33.6-percent shooting, looks vulnerable.

"There's some adjustments we've got to make on their pick-and-roll," said Pistons guard Chauncey Billups, who scored 17 points but battled foul trouble for the second straight game. "That's really all they're running. They are trying to push as fast as they can before we get set, and they run pick-and-rolls. They did a real good job and that's our main concern right now."

To that end, Billups and Richard Hamilton spent an extra 45 minutes with Saunders and assistant coach Terry Porter reviewing video. And to Billups, the solution is obvious. The Pistons need to mix it up on defense.

"We just can't give them a consistent look, especially with a guard like Kirk who can shoot the ball and score behind the pick-and-roll," Billups said. "If you give him a steady dose of something, he can figure it out and hurt you. That's what we did a horrible job of last night. We didn't change up, we didn't adjust when they had it going."

The Bulls got it going early and never let up.

Gordon, who averaged 12.0 points the first three games of the series, has scored at least 19 the last two. Hinrich is averaging 18 points in that span after struggling for most of the postseason.

And suddenly, they're outplaying Billups and Hamilton - arguably the best guard tandem in the NBA - after being overwhelmed in the first three games.

In Game 5, Skiles switched Hinrich onto Billups and had Gordon guard Hamilton. The result? Billups and Hamilton were a combined 10-for-26 after going 9-for-26 and fouling out in Game 4.

Skiles wouldn't say if he'll stick with those matchups, but he likes what he's seeing now from his guards.

"When the guards do a better job, the team usually wins," Hinrich said. "It has in this series. The main thing for us is trying to get the tempo."

A year ago, the Pistons grabbed a 2-0 lead against Cleveland in the conference semifinals and lost three straight before taking Game 6 at Cleveland and Game 7 at home. They believe that series wore them out, and Miami beat them in six games in the conference finals, denying Detroit a third straight trip to the NBA finals.

The Bulls know something about climbing out of holes.

They started 0-9 in 2004-05, but went on to finish the regular season with 47 wins and reach the playoffs for the first time since 1998, when Chicago won its sixth championship with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Last year, they were 12-19 but made it back to the postseason and challenged eventual champion Miami before losing in six games.

And this season, they won 49 games in the regular season after a 3-9 start and advanced in the postseason for the first time in nine years when they swept the Heat.

Besides Portland, the only teams to force a seventh game after dropping the first three are Denver against Utah in the 1994 conference semifinals and the Knicks in the 1951 finals against Rochester.

"We've had a lot of ups and downs," said Deng, in his third year. "We've been struggling to be consistent, but we've had our spurts. Every time we've lost five, six games in a row, we've bounced back."



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