AUBURN HILLS, MICH., MAY 30 -- The Detroit Pistons are supposed to have the league's best substitutes. After a few subpar games in the Eastern Conference finals with the Chicago Bulls, no one would have known.
But Mark Aguirre and Vinnie Johnson saved Detroit in the fourth quarter tonight, leading the Pistons to a 97-83 victory and a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven NBA playoff series.
Aguirre scored 10 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, and Johnson had five of his eight assists, when the Pistons finally pulled away from a Bulls team suffering through 33 percent (28 of 84) shooting. They keyed a 17-5 run that put the Pistons ahead by 15 with 5:27 remaining, breaking Chicago's press for layins.
Another reserve, John Salley, had four of his eight rebounds and six of his eight points in the final 12 minutes.
Joe Dumars led Detroit with 20 points; Bill Laimbeer, who had missed 13 of his previous 14 shots over the previous two games, was seven of 13 tonight and scored 16 points, with seven rebounds. Isiah Thomas didn't play the final 16:20 after picking up his fourth foul; he finished with seven points and 10 assists in 29 minutes.
"Basically, I got the ball where I wanted," Aguirre said. "I got the ball down on the post and I think I can do some damage. A lot of people think of me as a jump shooter, but I think I'm best on the post."
Pistons Coach Chuck Daly said Aguirre "gave us a lift in the first half and gave us an even bigger lift in the second half. One thing we have to do is attack the press. With him in the game we can do that. He can make plays."
Michael Jordan had just 22 points for Chicago, 11 below his playoff average, hitting seven of 19 shots. Scottie Pippen scored 19 points, but shot five for 20.
Still, the Bulls were at 68-64 late in the third period, mainly because they once again crashed the offensive backboards (15 offensive rebounds tonight) and had a big free throw advantage through three quarters. But they missed four straight open shots in the last two minutes of the third and never got closer.
"It was a tough situation offensively," Jordan said, "because they totally took us out of our offense. . . . No one could really get generate anything -- myself, no one. And that was due to their defense. We had open shots, but because of the rhythm factor, we weren't able to knock those shots down."
Detroit led by just 72-64 after three periods, though. After Jordan's transition layin, the deficit was six, but Jordan had to come out at 10:06 for a rest. The Bulls continued their trapping that had been so effective in Game 4.
But the Pistons beat it. Aguirre hit a three-pointer with the shot clock running down to make it 75-66. Will Perdue scored, but that was Chicago's last field goal for a killer 4:55 stretch. Johnson then found Aguirre on the baseline; he spun by Pippen for the layin.
Pippen missed at the other end, and Aguirre trailed in transition, coming from behind to take another Johnson pass for a layin at 8:52. He was fouled on the play, the free throw making it 80-68. Detroit's defense was now giving the Bulls no open shots and no follows, and after Pippen missed, Johnson again was the distributor, hitting James Edwards (13 points) for a layin. He too was fouled, and gave Detroit an 83-68 lead with 8:06 remaining.
Johnson said he was "just creating, trying to take advantage of my man putting pressure, putting on some one-on-one moves and creating open shots for other people. I'm pretty sure I get my respect as a one-on-one player and they have been double-teaming me in some situations out there, and I have hit the open man for open shots. And they've hit the shots."
Bulls Coach Phil Jackson was not pleased with "the type of shots they made us take, the way we tried to score. And let's face it, when Michael Jordan is averaging 33 points a game, and they did a job holding him under that, it changes the game."
Aguirre had played just nine minutes in Game 4, during which he had three turnovers. Dennis Rodman, who played on a turned ankle tonight, had had 20 points and 20 rebounds in that game, so Aguirre sat. He didn't want to.
"I really work on what's happening with Dennis Rodman," Aguirre said. "We work as kind of a tandem. When Dennis is playing like that, I know that my time might be limited out on the floor. . . . I have to accept that some nights. That's the way I have to go with that."
After the Pistons gained that 83-68 cushion, the Bulls got no closer than 14. They are faced with elimination in Game 6 Friday night in Chicago.
There was one troubling exchange late in the fourth that was more evidence that the league's get-tough policy on hard fouls is so much bunk. With 2:38 left, Laimbeer drove the baseline, and Pippen clotheslined him, not going anywhere near the ball.
That type of foul is supposed to warrant ejection, but Pippen got only a technical foul. Jordan said afterward that Laimbeer said if the Bulls were going to get away with such fouls, "he was going to go after me. I told him not to worry about it."
Laimbeer denied it.
Anyway, the Pistons showed the things tonight that have made them NBA champions -- finding the hot man, fourth-quarter runs, and 48 minutes of harsh defense.
"We really worked defensively all over the court," Daly said. "When our second team was in, we started to flash to the basket and we got some easy shots. . . . If we pass the ball, we're a very effective team. And I think it's important against their double teams that we make the pass. And that's one of the things we've been thinking about and talking about since the last game."