By Mike McGraw
Just call Marco Belinelli king of the unconventional game-winning shot.
He hit one in Boston on Friday while falling onto his back. On Wednesday against Detroit, Belinelli capped a 17-point comeback on a play that started with him shooting a brick from the corner.
The score was tied after the Bulls lost track of Jason Maxiell, who dropped in a layup with 29.4 seconds on the clock. The Bulls worked the ball around and ended up with Belinelli shooting from a step inside the 3-point line.
That attempt was well short and off target. It hit the front of the rim near the edge of the backboard and it appeared for a moment that the Pistons would get a chance to win.
But then Bulls' king of hustle, Joakim Noah, lunged for the ball and sent it back toward the court as he flew out of bounds. Replays seemed to show Noah's foot landing inbounds by about 2 inches and the ball bouncing roughly an inch from the end line on its way back.
But the ball found Belinelli's hands, he glided to the hoop for a layup and 3-point play with 7.5 seconds left, giving the Bulls an improbable 85-82 victory over Detroit at the United Center.
"It was a good basket, but I think Jo did everything," Belinelli said. "I was ready to take that shot, but it was lucky."
Pistons coach Lawrence Frank was among the first to notice something fishy going on.
"This is Belinelli's second kind of random game-winner. I guess he has good Karma," Frank said. "It just looked like the ball was out of bounds. At the heat of the moment, you're upset. I haven't seen it. But we put ourselves in that position."
Noah ended up sitting along the baseline press table between a couple of Luv-a-Bulls. After waiting about 20 seconds, Carlos Boozer finally came over to help him up.
"The basketball gods were on our side, got a little lucky," Noah said. "I think it's not really a great play, because if Detroit gets it, it's a 4-on-5 fast break on the other side, but I kept it in play, fortunately he got it. I didn't really see it. I had like cheerleaders' pom pons in my face."
This was the Bulls' 17th straight win over the Pistons, dating back to 2008, and their second 17-point comeback against Detroit this season.
The Bulls completed the first half of the season with a 25-16 record, a 50-win pace, all without injured all-star Derrick Rose.
The Pistons (16-26) started the night with 9 wins in their last 13 games. Their improvement was obvious at the start of this one. Detroit played tough defense, holding the Bulls to 27.3-percent shooting in the first quarter. And it seemed like everyone on a deep Pistons roster could either score in the post or break down a defender off the dribble.
When the Pistons opened the third quarter with an 8-0 run, their lead peaked at 55-38. The visitors kept up an 11-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
The Bulls' comeback was sparked by Nate Robinson. When he met reporters in the locker room, Robinson wore an Avengers T-shirt (comic book version), and he played the role of pint-size superhero perfectly.
Robinson scored 9 straight points, including a 3-pointer that brought the Bulls within 70-69. He later found Noah for a dunk to tie the score.
Taj Gibson's tip in gave the Bulls their first lead since 2-0. Gibson and Jimmy Butler (18 points) added jumpers to cap a 19-3 run and put the Bulls ahead 79-73 with 4:21 left.
"I thought our team spirit was terrific," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I think the way that unit was finishing the game, it inspired everybody. The whole bench was up and into it."
Detroit responded with 7 straight points to retake the lead before Butler canned a clutch corner 3-pointer to give the Bulls an 82-80 edge with 1:51 remaining.