There was a closely contested battle that took some time to play out Wednesday night at the United Center.
Not the basketball game. The Bulls knocked off the short-handed Detroit Pistons with relative ease 92-85, snapping a five-game losing streak in their first home game since Nov. 14.
The real drama came at the 6:24 mark of the first quarter when fans reacted to the first entry of ex-Bulls guard Ben Gordon.
Some fans came to praise the Bulls' four-time leading scorer. Others chose to boo his every move. When Gordon first stepped onto the court, some appreciative fans seemed determined to out-cheer the jeers. But the boo-birds lingered all night.
"I wasn't surprised," Gordon said of the boos. "I kind of expected that, just seeing how past players who have been here and went to another team. The crowd is always going to back the home team. It wasn't like I won a championship while I was here or anything. I just had a couple good years."
Gordon ended up leading the Pistons in scoring with 18 points. He knocked down 6 of 16 shots, picked up 5 fouls and generally looked like a player who had just missed a week with a sprained left ankle.
Inside the Bulls' locker room, the players weren't happy about the mostly negative reception for Gordon.
"Honestly, I didn't like it," Luol Deng said. "I thought when BG was here, he played hard and he really committed to the game. I know he's not here (anymore), but there's a lot more to it. When he came in, I thought they were going to cheer for him. I was a little disappointed about that."
Joakim Noah earned one of the biggest cheers of the night for blocking a Gordon layup attempt from behind. But Noah, too, thought Gordon deserved a better response.
"It was kind of weird," Noah said. "I thought he would get a little bit more love than that.
"He's definitely somebody who did a lot for this ballclub, who brought a lot of happiness to this building. At the same time, fans will be fans. I can only talk for me personally: I appreciate everything he did here."
Gordon joined the Pistons on the first day of free agency last July. He turned down offers from the Bulls the previous two summers, then ended up getting more money in Detroit. The Bulls never made much of an attempt to re-sign the 6-foot-2 shooting guard this year.
"I moved on a long time ago," Gordon said. "It was just another game for me. I have no bitter feelings. I did what I had to do. No bitter feelings. It's just part of the business.
"I didn't talk to guys that much before the game, just on the court. Joakim, he was saying a few things I'll keep in the back of my mind."
The Bulls (7-9) got off to a quick start in this game, jumping to a 15-4 advantage and leading 24-10 at the end of the first quarter. Gordon was back, but the Pistons (6-12) still were missing Richard Hamilton (ankle), Tayshaun Prince (back) and Charlie Villanueva (broken nose).
Overall, it was a sloppy performance by both sides. The Bulls faded in and out of playing well, which has been a habit this season. When Detroit closed within 3 points early in the third quarter, the Bulls responded with an 11-0 run.
John Salmons led the Bulls with 22 points, Derrick Rose added 19, while Noah finished with 14 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Mike McGraw's game tracker
Bulls 92, Pistons 85
Boos for Ben: Even though he led the Bulls in scoring the past four seasons, some fans at the United Center made a point of booing Pistons guard Ben Gordon at every opportunity Wednesday night. Coming back from a sprained left ankle, Gordon was OK in his return to Chicago. He scored 18 points and hit 6 of 16 shots.
Unusual start: The Bulls have endured plenty of sluggish starts to games recently. Against Detroit, the home team jumped to a 24-10 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Pistons got as close as 3 in the third quarter but never made a serious run in the fourth.
No place like home: In their first game at the UC since Nov. 14, the Bulls shot 47.8 percent as a team. John Salmons led the way with 22 points, Derrick Rose had 19 points and 6 assists, while Joakim Noah added 14 rebounds and 3 blocks.