Lemon makes quality debut as Bulls lose to Raptors
Making his Bulls debut on Saturday at the United Center, point guard Walt Lemon Jr. wanted to stand his ground and show people he can't be intimidated.
He ended up getting a technical foul in the process for bumping and jawing with Toronto's Kyle Lowry after the third quarter ended. And a technical foul in the NBA comes with a $1,000 fine. That's tip money for Lowry, who makes $30 million per season. But Lemon spent most of this season in the G-League.
"Now that I know how much a tech is, I'm definitely not going to say anything else," Lemon said with a laugh. "(The fine) is definitely going to hit me. That's just a moment I had to let people know that I'm not going for none of that. I respect the man."
Lemon was a bright spot in a mostly hopeless situation for the Bulls. Playing without any of their regular starters, the Bulls lost to Toronto 124-101.
Lemon, who joined the Bulls on Thursday after helping lead the Windy City Bulls to their first playoff appearance, scored a team-high 19 points and added 6 assists. The 6-foot-2 guard showed he has the speed to get to the basket and some savvy to make things happen. His game needs a little more polish and the Bulls plan to give him a chance to play during the final, meaningless five games of the regular season.
"I thought Walt, he looked like an NBA player," Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. "He got downhill, he's not scared. He wasn't going to let anybody bully him out there and I liked that. I was very excited abut his play, his competitiveness and the things he does translates to some of the things we need."
This was the second time the Bulls played without any of their regular starters. They were missing Zach LaVine (knee, quad bruise), Lauri Markkanen (fatigue), Otto Porter Jr. (shoulder), Kris Dunn (back) and Wendell Carter Jr. (thumb surgery).
Toronto (54-23), which has basically locked up the No. 2 seed in the East, rested top scorers Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam. Rockford native Fred VanVleet and center Serge Ibaka led the Raptors with 23 points each.
For the Bulls, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot added season-highs with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Shaq Harrison hustled his way to 15 points and 8 rebounds.
Boylen said the plan is to start Lemon a few times before the season ends, perhaps as soon as Monday at New York.
Lemon, 26, grew up on the South Side, attending Julian High School and Bradley University. He made his NBA debut last season with New Orleans, but playing for his hometown team was something different.
"I was nervous, excited," he said. "Part of me didn't want to mess up. Part of me was a little emotional because, you know, I got a Bulls jersey on me. And I'm from here. It was just a lot of emotions in one. I wanted to play the right way and just really show people who Walt Lemon is. I think I did that for the most part and I have to keep building on it."
Lemon checked in at the 5:59 mark of the first quarter and made his presence felt by stealing a lazy pass in the backcourt, getting fouled and nearly converting the basket.
"When I got called up last year, I wasn't used to the pace and athleticism of the NBA," Lemon said. "That's something I had to adjust to. This time around, I think I did a better job of pacing myself and knowing my game. I wasn't trying to force nothing. Just play the right way. Keep finding my teammates. And when the opportunities presented itself, attack the rim, which I know I'm good at. I just wanted to be aggressive."
Just not aggressive enough to get any more technicals.
"Kyle Lowry is a pro, man," Lemon said. "He's an all-star. I respect him. But I'm a dog. When I'm on the court, I don't care who you are. I'm not backing down from nobody. I respect Kyle Lowry. I'm trying to do what he has done."