Zach LaVine scores 14 points in debut as Bulls edge Pistons
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Zach LaVine got free on the right wing. After working his way open behind the three-point arc, LaVine took a pass from Kris Dunn and didn’t hesitate to shoot. He released the ball with perfect form, and it splashed through the hoop, giving LaVine his first three points just 37 seconds into his Bulls career.
The basket capped LaVine’s 11-month recovery from the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee he suffered as a member of the Timberwolves. It was also a milestone in the Bulls’ rebuild that began when they acquired him, Dunn and Lauri Markkanen in a draft-night deal from the Timberwolves for Jimmy Butler.
‘‘I expected it to go through,’’ LaVine said of his first shot. ‘‘I take so many shots, man. Late nights, I’ve shot so many shots. Hopefully I make that wide-open one, but I was happy.
‘‘I was into the game, so I really didn’t have any emotions going through that point. I’ll probably come back and sit down and watch the game tonight and re-evaluate everything, but I’m just glad we got the win.
‘‘I played my part, and I’m ready to get this thing rolling again.’’
Inserted into the starting lineup — and announced last during pregame introductions — LaVine scored 14 points in the Bulls’ 107-105 victory against the Pistons. In just more than 19 minutes, he shot 5-for-9 with three three-pointers.
‘‘He’s a very smooth player and has a lot of confidence to rise up on his first shot and knock down a three,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. ‘‘[That] shows you that he’s just been itching for this moment to get out there and back on the floor and with his teammates.’’
With LaVine on the bench — as planned — for the fourth quarter, the Bulls still were able to close out the Pistons. Markkanen scored 19 points to lead six players in double figures for the Bulls, who still had to survive a dramatic conclusion.
The Bulls led 107-105 and had an opportunity to seal the victory, but Justin Holiday turned the ball over with 4.3 seconds left. The Pistons then had a chance to tie the score and force overtime, but Dunn was credited with a block on Reggie Bullock’s fast-break layup, and Markkanen grabbed the rebound as time expired.
Even if the Bulls hadn’t won, the game still would have been significant. For LaVine, it was the payoff after ‘‘a lot of long nights, grueling workouts, fun times, ups and downs.’’
‘‘An emotional roller coaster, but you’re strong to get through that,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘I think it made me a better person and better player. Just happy to come out of it and get back to doing what I love.
‘‘It was a long process. That full year, especially being away from basketball, it just — it sucks.’’
Playing in front of family members and his agent, LaVine’s debut with the Bulls went according to plan. He said he got tired quickly, but he said his knee felt fine. He regretted not being able to finish a lob from Nikola Mirotic for a dunk, but he had few other complaints.
He also impressed his teammates, including one with whom he’ll be linked for as long as they’re in Chicago.
‘‘Just to see how he moves and how quick he is, how well he can shoot the ball,’’ Markkanen said. ‘‘He’s a great player, and he’s going to bring a lot to the team.’’
Follow me on Twitter @BrianSandalow.