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Pau Gasol steps up as Chicago Bulls defeat Detroit Pistons

By
Dana Gauruder, The Sports Xchange

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The loss of their best defensive big man still weighed on their minds. That did not prevent the Chicago Bulls from winning their first game since Joakim Noah suffered a dislocated left shoulder.

The team learned over the weekend that Noah's season is probably over, so their best offensive big man carried a larger load. Veteran center Pau Gasol had a season-high 31 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the Bulls to a 111-101 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Monday afternoon at The Palace.

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"We spoke about it in practice emotionally after knowing Jo's going to be out for awhile, if the team was going to notice it or feel it in this game," said Gasol, who added three assists and three blocks. "I think the team did a good job just focusing in, playing and competing and getting a huge win. It speaks a lot for our team, about our concentration and where our minds are at."

Mindful of how dominant the league's leading rebounder, Pistons center Andre Drummond, can be, Gasol forced him away from the basket by pumping in mid-range shots. Chicago's pick-and-pop play proved unstoppable, as Gasol made 13 of 18 field-goal attempts and the team shot 52.4 percent.

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"We played with poise, we spaced the floor well and we found whoever was hot," Gasol said. "Once you find stuff that works for you in a game, you've got to go to it until they stop it and then you go to something else. We stayed pretty consistent throughout the game."

The Bulls are now 9-2 in games that Noah has missed this season, but coach Fred Hoiberg brushed aside that statistic.

"I don't think you'll find one guy in that locker room that would say we're a better team with Jo out of the lineup," he said. "He does a lot of things that don't show up in the box score. He's a guy we'll absolutely miss the rest of the season."

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Bulls point guard Derrick Rose fired in 20 points and shooting guard Jimmy Butler contributed 16 points and nine assists. Chicago (24-16) took the lead to stay early in the fourth.

The Pistons won the first two meetings this season in overtime, including an epic 147-144, four-overtime marathon on Dec. 18 in Chicago. Gasol had his only other 30-point game of the season during the four-OT loss.

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"It's just reading the game," Rose said of Gasol's output. "We kept going to Jimmy, and he was driving and passing the ball. Every night it can be someone else."

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Chicago's bench also played a crucial role. Small forward Doug McDermott and power forward Nikola Mirotic combined for 21 points while point guard Aaron Brooks dished out 10 assists, doubling his previous season high.

The Pistons' energy was noticeably lower than on Saturday night, when they upset Golden State.

"We're a consistently inconsistent team," point guard Reggie Jackson said. "We've shown we play well at times. We play to the level of our opponent quite a bit. We've shown the world that we have flashes of being a good team."

Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy was disappointed with his team's defensive effort.

"We just did not defend at all," he said. "We started the game pretty well with our starters, we went to the bench, and the bench didn't have anything going today. We got crushed with the bench and then after that, we just got pretty well taken apart for the rest of the game."

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Pistons power forward Ersan Ilyasova led Detroit (22-19) with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Center Andre Drummond collected his league-high 35th double-double with 13 points and 16 rebounds, Jackson had 19 points and small forward Marcus Morris added 18 for the Pistons.

Detroit shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was ejected in the closing seconds of the third after picking up his second technical of the quarter. Caldwell-Pope exited with 14 points.

NOTES: Bulls rookie PF Bobby Portis will play regularly now that C Joakim Noah (dislocated shoulder) may miss the rest of the season. "He knows now he's going to play extended minutes pretty much every night," coach Fred Hoiberg said. ... Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy is somewhat surprised his team was at or above .500 for all but one game during the first half of the season. "We've come along probably a little bit quicker than I would have expected," Van Gundy said. ... Bulls reserve PG Kirk Hinrich (left quad contusion) did not travel with the team. ... Detroit embarks on a four-game road trip, beginning at Houston on Wednesday. Chicago has a home game against defending champion Golden State the same night. ... Detroit C Andre Drummond's 21-rebound game against the Warriors on Saturday was his eighth 20-rebound performance this season, two more than the rest of the league combined.

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