Observations from the Bulls’ season opener, a 117-101 loss to the Toronto Raptors Thursday at Air Canada Centre.
It happens quickly: An encouraging first quarter and all its good vibes went away in a matter of 90 seconds to start the second, when a two-point deficit turned into 10 as the Bulls’ second unit failed to continue some positive habits established in the first quarter.
The slim margin for error is actually less than that, considering the Bulls don’t have enough firepower to compete or a player who’ll create his own shots for long stretches.
It was early but the Raptors’ 20-2 run ended the game even though there was more than 34 minutes left. The score was 45-25 and everybody in Air Canada Centre knew it was just about over.
“That was the key stretch of the game. They got downhill, they picked us up (defensively). We didn’t respond well to that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “They got in the paint, spread us out and hit shots.”
Clearly their roster was already depleted in the wake of the Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic incident, so Hoiberg had to dig even deeper into his bench than he’d like.
“Obviously we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare and figure out what we were gonna do with lineups because we haven’t played those lineups the entire preseason,” Hoiberg said.
First look: You can tell Lauri Markkanen will struggle a bit with his strength, as he’s just 20 years old in his first NBA action. On a couple occasions, he drove the ball hard to the basket right into the mammoth Jonas Valanciunas, and put up quality attempts.
“I have a lot to improve but if I had any nerves for the first game, those are out now,” Markkanen said. “I let the game come to me. I’m not forcing anything.”
The stat line looked good for someone in his position, scoring 17 with eight rebounds in 33 minutes but the spirit of how he played was the most encouraging thing.
“That’s what we like about him, he has no fear,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he was really good, to go out and put up 17 and 8 in his first game, he had a couple shots he normally is gonna make. So yeah, he was real good.”
He also gets aggressive on defense to block shots on the weak side, leading to harder rim runs and a 3-point play in the third quarter where his long stride got him from the top of the key for a layup without a dribble.
It was a stretch where he scored a quick eight in the third, and he reiterated he’s a confident player and his first game did nothing to dim that belief.
“He was great, I loved how aggressive he was,” Robin Lopez said. “He put himself into good spots out there on defense and offense.”
Playing hard/hard lessons: Even though they were down 20 multiple times, the Bulls didn’t completely fold. Part of it was DeMar DeRozan going just 11 on two of nine shooting, but the Bulls consistently played hard—one of the few things Hoiberg can hang his hat on as a coach.
“Obviously something we talked about a lot is playing through adversity, playing through the tough times,” said Hoiberg, noting the Bulls had a few chances to cut the Raptors lead to 12 in the second half.
Denzel Valentine was four of seven from 3 but was also a minus-19 in his 25 minutes of run, a feat matched only by Cristiano Felicio, who played 16 minutes.
“I was proud of the guys in the second half,” Hoiberg said. “I thought (Kay) Felder gave us a big lift off the bench with his pace, with his speed.”
Felder wasn’t shy in his 15 minutes, getting up nine shots and hitting two, but had six assists as he was the only Bull to get in the lane with any regularity. Considering one of the things the Bulls lack of shot creation, finding ways to compromise the defense will be critical if they are to stay close for long stretches.
But with that comes the risk of turnovers—which is something the Bulls will likely struggle with anyways. Coughing it up 19 times for 27 points is an example of “thin margin for error”.
“You turn the ball over 19 times, you give up eight offensive rebounds to one guy, it’s gonna be a long night,” Hoiberg said, referring to Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, who had 23 points and 15 boards.
The long line: The 3-point line was supposed to be the great equalizer on some nights for the Bulls, considering they want to get up shots early and often in this offense.
But C.J. Miles took the Bulls playbook and used it against them, scoring 22 points in 20 minutes, hitting six of nine from 3-point range. Overall the Raptors, a team that was middle of the pack at best in that department last season, come into this year with an added emphasis.
It showed, as they hit 13 of 29 compared to the Bulls making 11 of 33. Justin Holiday was off, hitting just four of 12 and was five of 16 overall.
“You put a big key on Miles, making him bounce the ball. He hit some tough shots,” Hoiberg said. “That’s who he is, that’s what he does. They hit shots, they got it in the paint and spread it out.”