The Bulls’ Zach LaVine dribbles past the Pistons’ Killian Hayes Thursday in Paris.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
PARIS — The streets of Paris were in a frenzy all day on Thursday, as transportation workers throughout the country were protesting the government’s changing of the pension plan.
Entire neighborhoods near the Bastille were in gridlock, police were in full riot gear, and historic monuments were spray-painted.
But the night in Paris? That belonged to the NBA and the Bulls.
Thanks to a game-high 30 points from Zach LaVine, the Bulls handled the Pistons 126-108 in the Paris Game 2023 in front of a sellout crowd at the Accor Arena.
And while it may have counted as a regular-season game, it didn’t feel anything like it for the players involved.
It isn’t often that the Bulls and Pistons play in mid-January, while former Bull Joakim Noah sits on one side of the court dressed like a Sherpa with Crocs on, and across the way sits Lakers legend Magic Johnson.
Tickets sold out immediately when the game was announced months ago, and getting tickets on the streets was next to impossible in the NBA-starved city.
The Pistons may have been the home team, but that was in white jersey color only, as the fans were 85% in the corner of the visiting Bulls.
They played like it from the opening tip.
Nikola Vucevic set the tone early, scoring the opening four points of the game, and then assisting on a Patrick Williams three-pointer, only to move aside and allow DeMar DeRozan to get the arena on its feet with a thunderous one-handed dunk.
Not bad for a veteran who was sidelined for three games with an injured right quad, but returned just in time for the showcase event.
“You kind of see it with a lot of teams on the road where you just have that electric atmosphere,’’ DeRozan said. “You just go out there and compete a little bit more. You’ve got that extra step, extra juice in you.
“Definitely a privilege to be playing in Paris, and you want to leave a lasting impression for sure.’’
DeRozan wasn’t alone in that, as the second half became an in-game dunk contest between LaVine and Derrick Jones Jr. On volume alone, Jones was the clear winner.
Bigger picture, the Bulls (21-24) were sharing the basketball and running an unselfish offense for the second consecutive game. They were finally playing like a group that understood where they were in the season and what’s at stake as the Feb. 9 trade deadline approaches.
Seven different players in double figures was evident of that.
Meanwhile, the Pistons had their own French connection going. The worst team in the Eastern Conference remained right where they wanted to be — sitting at 12-36 and still a real contender to try and win the draft lottery and nab French sensation Victor Wembanyama.