The Return, Game 2: Bobby Portis said his suspension made him grateful to keep playing the game he loves.
He’s continuing to show it, playing with fervor in his first game in front of the Bulls fans since his incident with Nikola Mirotic. Scoring 20 points in 25 minutes with 11 rebounds, he continued to battle inside even as he wasn’t very effective early, working himself into a good night.
“I’m getting better each and every day,” Portis said. “I’ve always been confident but I’m at the top of my game right now with my confidence level. I’ve gotten better at taking the good shot and not every shot.”
The Bulls started to use he and Lauri Markkanen together again in the fourth quarter, similar to when they provided spacing in their comeback in Toronto. Markkanen shot just 2-for-9 from 3-point range, perhaps showing some effects from the tendinitis that kept him out of practice Wednesday.
With 43 points in his first two games, it’s the best two-game stretch of his career—all things considered. He had back-to-back 16-point games his rookie year against the Pacers and Knicks, but consistent playing time and production has been fleeting.
“Knowing I’m gonna play, I can get comfortable,” Portis said. “Knowing the coaches trust in my abilities, knowing they trust in me shooting the ball, that’s a plus also.”
He’s had to play behind proven veterans in Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol in his first two seasons.
“It’s always frustration, man,” he said with a laugh. “It’s always tough not being able to play and having to sit and wait your turn. It was a blessing in disguise, it’s helped me tremendously.”
Especially with Zach LaVine still weeks away from stepping on the floor and the Bulls being the only team in the Eastern Conference averaging fewer than 100 points (93.6), somebody has to score.
Why not Portis?
“I don’t know why anybody is surprised. I’ve always went hard my whole life,” Portis said. “I’ve always tried to bring my best effort. If anything, I’m gonna play hard. Me scoring 20 points is probably not gonna be a regular thing but at the same time I know my role on this team. Bring energy and effort every day. If the shots are there I’ll take them.”
No rah-rah comeback here: In Toronto, Hoiberg ripped into his team at halftime and it resulted in a resounding comeback, with the Bulls nearly pulling off an upset from down 23 points.
That kind of effort was nowhere to be found on Friday night, the first of a back-to-back set that concludes in San Antonio Saturday night.
“You could see in our guys’ faces, it was gonna be a long night,” Hoiberg said. “We didn’t have that fight to us, that suck it up, find a way to make a play for your teammates, we didn’t have it.”
Denzel Valentine started 1-for-10 after two encouraging performances. Kris Dunn’s maddening turnovers continued, especially the ones of the unforced variety where he’s either overthinking or not thinking at all.
He scored 16 and looked confident and competent while driving to the basket, evidenced by his baseline drive and dunk on an unsuspecting defense in the first half.
“He makes plays that gets you really excited, some high flying dunks, then he has a couple really careless turnovers,” Hoiberg said. “He’s shown flashes of being an excellent basketball player but we gotta get rid of those careless turnovers.”
But when it comes to running an offense, he’s still very much a work in progress—where patience is probably the best attribute when evaluating him.
It was also a game to forget for Bulls centers Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio. Felicio continued to struggle, as his usual activity has turned to regression. Lopez, on the other hand, had been a model of consistency until this point.
He’ll probably ask for a mulligan after start 0-for-6 and scoring just two points.
Oladip-OH!: Victor Oladipo was doing more than enjoying his newfound freedom after being traded from Oklahoma City to the Pacers in the Paul George deal; he was bathing in it. His steal and uncontested 360 dunk midway through the third quarter put the Pacers up 20 and gave him 21 points, on his way to 25, six assists and six rebounds.
It wasn’t that easy all night but it felt like that for the Pacers as they shot 51 percent and 41 from 3-point range. They didn’t make a free throw until well into the third quarter because the Bulls defense was that slow in getting back in transition.
“The very first drill we did in our training camp…defensive transition drill,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We talked about our rules in transition. It completely went out the window tonight.
“They scored 20 in transition. It seemed like 50.”
He lived in the Bulls paint, being a step quicker and playing with more fervor than anyone wearing Bulls red. It almost made you wonder why the Thunder couldn’t make it work between him and Russell Westbrook, given he was so active with the ball and refused to settle for jumpers.
It also put an end to the assertion that the Pacers got fleeced in the George deal, as they at least have building blocks in Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, who came off the bench to score eight with nine rebounds.
Bojan Bogdanovic torched the Bulls for six triples in 33 minutes, scoring 22 with seven rebounds. Oladipo’s penetration repeatedly compromised the Bulls defense and the threat of it left shooters open to the tune of 12 triples while the Bulls made just 7 of 26.