Not much fight left in these Bulls, who lose opener in Toronto
TORONTO — On Tuesday, the Bulls showed plenty of fight. Unfortunately, it was with each other.
On Thursday, in the season opener against the Raptors, the Bulls didn’t show much.
The Raptors gave the young Bulls a lesson in NBA basketball on the road, going on a 28-4 run to start the second quarter before cruising to a 117-101 victory at the Air Canada Centre.
And it wasn’t even that close.
“The key stretch of the game was the beginning of the second quarter,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “[The Raptors] got downhill, they picked us up, they pressured us, we turned the ball over. We didn’t respond well to that.
“Something we talk about a lot is playing through the adversity, playing through the tough times, and I was proud of the guys in the second half for coming back.”
Then again, with such a big lead, the Raptors didn’t look very engaged in the second half.
While Hoiberg would have loved nothing more than to simply discuss basketball — even the bad basketball displayed by his team at times — he found himself still answering questions about a punch thrown by Bobby Portis in practice Tuesday that sent Nikola Mirotic to the hospital with a concussion and two broken bones in his face.
Not only did it result in the Bulls playing short-handed at forward with Portis suspended for eight games and Mirotic out for at least a month, but it weakened the entire second unit.
At one point in the second quarter, the Bulls had Ryan Arcidiacono, Denzel Valentine, David Nwaba, Quincy Pondexter and Cristiano Felicio on the floor. That’s when the Raptors started putting the Bulls away, outscoring them 33-14 in the quarter.
Not that it was all negative.
For Pondexter, it was his first NBA game in well over two years after multiple knee surgeries followed by a skin infection that not only nearly ended his career but his life.
“Being in the hospital about to die,” Pondexter said of his lowest point throughout the ordeal. “We thought some organs were failing, and it wasn’t looking good. It was tough. I prayed. My family was there close to me. Being able to play basketball again in less than a year is crazy.
“I was just trying to fight for another … trying to stay alive. People don’t know what you’ve been through. There are a lot of times they’re not there besides your close family and friends. I appreciate them carrying me through this whole process.”
Pondexter scored eight points in 12 minutes.
Then there was first-round pick Lauri Markkanen, who got the starting nod because of the Portis-Mirotic fight.
As he showed in his last two preseason games, Markkanen looked the part of a very confident player, not shying away from the moment or a shot.
After a slow first half, he finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, shooting 5-for-12 from the field and 2-for-6 from three-point range.
“There’s a lot to improve, but if I had any nerves for the first game, those are behind now,” Markkanen said. “I let the game come to me. I’m not forcing anything, so my chances are there. That’s pretty much it.”
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