Vucevic scores 21, but Bulls lose in his debut
The debut of all-star center Nikola Vucevic and three other new Bulls was ultimately unsuccessful, but they might have stumbled onto a catchy reserve group.
After falling behind by 36 points, a colorful lineup of Coby White, Troy Brown Jr. and Javonte Green brought the Bulls within 9 points. But San Antonio steadied the ship and finished off a 120-104 victory Saturday.
Vucevic finished with 21 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists, not too far off from the season averages he set in Orlando. Brown had 8 points, Al-Farouq Aminu had 2, while Green did not score, to recap the newcomers.
"I think we were trying too much not to step on each others' toes," Vucevic said. "I think it was good for us to make that run in the second half. I think everybody was just doing their thing, not thinking too much."
In some ways, this felt like a return to opening night, when the Bulls, with mostly the same players but a new head coach, were blown out of the gym by Atlanta. By the third game, things had settled down.
Vucevic scored his first Bulls' bucket on the team's first possession of the game. The Bulls followed with a Tomas Satoransky 3-pointer and Patrick Williams layup, and it seemed like Vucevic's presence was opening up the offense.
But things turned sour pretty quickly. San Antonio led 33-20 after the first quarter and the spread kept growing.
"I think this will be good for them to look at film for the first time seeing themselves in a game together," coach Billy Donovan said. "And there will be things they see tomorrow, they'll say, 'Geez, I didn't realize that was open.' It happens so fast in the game and they're not used to playing with each other."
The trades don't explain away everything about this performance. In the first half, the Bulls hit just 14-of-25 shots inside the paint and 3-of-15 from 3-point range. And that was with Vucevic playing 16 minutes and Aminu with six. Most of the guys on the court were the same, although Garrett Temple did return after missing seven games with an ankle sprain.
The Spurs' lead peaked at 91-55 with 3:56 left in the third quarter. The Bulls got it down to 9 when Vucevic hit a 3 with 5:13 left, but a 3-point play by DeMar DeRozan set San Antonio back on track.
Zach LaVine (18 points) didn't play in the fourth quarter, which Donovan said was simply because the other group was playing so well.
"I think the thing Zach cannot do is worry about feeding (Vucevic)," Donovan said. "He was trying to find him and it took him out of rhythm too."
Earlier in the day, Vucevic had his first Zoom availability with reporters and rehashed his feelings about the trade. He later got very emotional when asked to look back on his nine years in Orlando.
"When I got the call from the Magic GM John Hammond, it was for sure a little bit of a shock, although I knew there were talks going on and it was a possibility," Vucevic said. "Once it happens and you realize you're actually going through with it, it's a little different.
"But I'm obviously very happy to be here. I think I can fit right in with the group of guys we have. I think my style of play fits as well. Talking to a lot of players and coach Donovan, a lot of stuff he wants to run and how he wants to play and how he sees the game of basketball, I can fit right in."
On Feb. 5 in Orlando, Vucevic piled up 43 points and 19 rebounds in a victory over the Bulls, so he definitely has some pleasant memories of playing against his new team.
"I enjoy playing the way that they play," he said. "I've watched them a lot. We played them when I was in Orlando and I felt they had a good team. So happy to be here, obviously excited. It's going to take a little bit of time to adjust and for them to adjust to me but looking forward to this first game."
In other news, former Bulls backup center Daniel Gafford had a nice debut with Washington on Saturday, posting 13 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks against Detroit.
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