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Thomas, Bulls hold off Pistons charge for first victory

CHICAGO (AP) -- The push and the extra motivation the struggling Chicago Bulls needed came from the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last spring.

After a surprising 0-4 start, Chicago beat the Detroit Pistons 97-93 on Thursday night, riding 19 points and 14 rebounds from Tyrus Thomas for that elusive first victory.

"It just feels a lot better. We got a quality win over one of the best teams in the league" said Chicago's Kirk Hinrich, who had 14 assists. "Now we've got to play better basketball and be more consistent."

The Bulls had to overcome a 36-point night from Rasheed Wallace -- his most in a Pistons' uniform -- to send Detroit to its first loss after opening with three wins.

No one could stop Wallace's assortment of shots -- post-ups on the inside, 3-pointers from the perimeter -- although he missed two key shots in the final minute.

"Regardless of my game, it ended in an `L,' " Wallace said. "I'm old school so it didn't matter what I did, the team lost the game."

Luol Deng added 17 points and Ben Gordon had 16 for the Bulls.

Richard Hamilton scored 18 points for the Pistons, who eliminated the Bulls in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals last spring.

"Hopefully getting a win against a good team like Detroit will give us some confidence," Gordon said, relieved that the early losing streak is finally over. "It was definitely a burden."

Hamilton drove the lane for a sweeping basket as the shot clock went off, cutting the Bulls lead to 94-93 with 1:35 to play. After the teams traded turnovers, Chicago's Joe Smith missed a jumper and the Pistons had a chance to retake the lead. But Wallace's short bank shot wouldn't stay in and the Bulls rebounded with 33 seconds to go.

Gordon then made the first of two free throws after being fouled by Hamilton to give the Bulls a 95-93 lead with 26 seconds remaining.

After a timeout, Wallace's turnaround attempt over Thomas hit the rim and came off with 13 seconds to go.

"This was a hard one to lose," Wallace said. "The shots I got down the stretch couldn't have felt better. You're just going to have some of those in and outs like that on a night."

But when Smith missed the first of two from the line it was 96-93 and the Pistons got one last chance for a tie. Hamilton's 3-pointer was short and the Bulls rebounded with 2.9 seconds left.

Thomas' free throw sealed the victory for the Bulls, who have had their share of early season distractions, including trade rumors involving Kobe Bryant.

"I think we came out and played harder than we had all season," Thomas said. "We played better, obviously. It was a good win for us."

The high-leaping Thomas had several rim-shattering jams and a spectacular left-handed reverse layup late in the third quarter. He was 8-for-12 from the field.

"Besides being a freakish athlete, he's becoming a lot better basketball player. He's growing as a player we expect him to continue to grow," Hinrich said of Thomas.

Wallace was 12-of-24 from the field and had nine rebounds. No Chicago defender could stop him.

"Scary is a good word to describe him," Chicago coach Scott Skiles said. "He's one of those guys who has an unblockable shot. You can't get to it. I don't care who you are, you just can't get to it. You can just challenge it. And if it's going in, it's going in."

In the first half, the Bulls showed the hustle they'd been lacking in four straight losses and jumped to a 12-point lead in the second quarter.

Wallace's 3-pointer helped the Pistons go on a 13-4 run and Detroit hacked the lead to 51-45 by halftime, hitting 13 of 19 free throws.

Game notes
Wallace, who joined the Pistons in the 2003-04 season, has an overall career high of 42. ... Ben Wallace says playing his former team, the Pistons, is old news. "It's been just another game for a long time. All the hoopla is dead now," he said. Wallace did not play in the fourth quarter Thursday and finished with seven rebounds and six points. ... Thomas' 14 rebounds were a career high. ... Chicago's bench outscored the Pistons' reserves 31-13.