Bulls

Thunder bigs too much for Bulls with ailing Jimmy Butler

Thunder bigs too much for Bulls with ailing Jimmy Butler

Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter grabbed a rebound after a Bulls miss at the elbow and swiftly dribbled downcourt before throwing a bounce pass 20 feet between two defenders to Alex Abrines for a layup.

When Abrines came up short, Kanter swooped in for a tip-in layup and galloped back the other way as if he didn’t do something guards are supposed to do with the dribble, as if his swift finish was something reserved for athletic swingmen.

And he’s the backup center for the Thunder.

That was the gaping hole in talent with the frontcourt positions, with the Thunder throwing their girth, speed and athleticism around the United Center floor.

Oh yeah, and they have Russell Westbrook, the NBA’s version of Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil.

That, along with Jimmy Butler’s illness meant the Bulls were no match for the Oklahoma City Thunder, falling 109-94 Monday, dropping them back to .500 mark before they head to Washington D.C. and New York for two road games.

Butler was a game-time decision with flu-like symptoms before the game, only mustering up a groggy “I’m good” when spotted in the locker room an hour prior to tipoff.

Butler started but missed all six of his shots in 29 minutes, scoring one point with seven assists on the day he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

“We appreciate him going out and giving it a shot,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg while adding neither Butler nor Dwyane Wade (scheduled rest) will play against the Wizards Tuesday in Washington D.C.. “It says a lot about him as a competitor. But he was obviously struggling and they sent him home after we took him out in the third quarter.”

Without him, the Bulls were seemingly rudderless against a team that was probably a bad matchup on a good day, shooting just 40 percent and being outscored 60-36 in the paint.

[SHOP BULLS: Get a Jimmy Butler jersey right here]

The Thunder jumped on the Bulls from the onset, as starting center Steven Adams and Kanter picked the Bulls apart on the interior, going 12 of 15 in the first half for 26 points and nine rebounds.

“That was the key to the game,” Hoiberg said. “We talked about their bigs being the best rim runners in the league, going down and getting deep position in transition.”

They were just too much for Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson and whomever the Bulls had in uniform, taking big leads before the half while getting Gibson and Nikola Mirotic in foul trouble.

They could’ve used Mirotic with Butler being little more than a decoy but he picked up silly fouls in the first half before being pulled and playing a handful of minutes in the second half before Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg called in the available reserves for garbage time in the last 10 minutes as the Bulls trailed by 22.

“Those guys, Adams and Kanter, they are good,” said Wade, who led the Bulls with 22. “Very underrated for what they do. They get nasty down there. They came in and kicked our butts tonight. We weren’t prepared for the fight the bigs were bringing.”

Wade gave the Bulls their only real spurt, leading an 18-4 charge in the second quarter, hitting a few long range jumpers and putting fellow Tom Crean disciple Victor Oladipo in the torture chamber for some insided scores.

Wade added six assists and four rebounds, and Michael Carter-Williams had 15 points in 25 minutes.

Adams led the demolition with 22 and five rebounds, while Westbrook tried for another triple-double but finished a rebound short with 21 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds in 33 minutes. Kanter had a double-double with 20 points and 11 boards in 27 minutes as the Thunder shot 57 percent and led by 25 in the second half.

It was a glimpse of life without Jimmy Butler and although extreme, it sure was ugly.

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

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Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

Quincy Pondexter’s trade to Chicago makes him a newcomer. His birth certificate makes him a veteran. But it’s his story that makes him worth listening to.

Even in the eye of team chaos, Pondexter’s debut with the Bulls had such a special meaning that when he entered the game to start the second quarter, he thought he would come to tears.

Having been out of basketball the last two years after knee surgeries went bad, Pondexter came close to dying in a New York hospital in January when his organs began to fail after a MRSA infection.

Catching MRSA can often lead to death.

“It wasn’t looking good,” Pondexter said. “It was tough. I prayed. My family was there close to me. Being able to play basketball again in less than a year is crazy. It’s all God. This journey has been amazing.”

His journey took him from being in New Orleans, where his knee troubles started, to being an addition to the Bulls in a trade months ago when the Bulls picked up cash and a second-round pick from the Pelicans.

Pondexter joined high school teammate and close friend Robin Lopez on a team needing some leadership, and due to the punch Bobby Portis threw to Nikola Mirotic Tuesday afternoon, it put Pondexter in position to get on the floor as a backup power forward behind rookie Lauri Markkanen.

If the Bulls were smart, they’d probably put Pondexter in a room to talk to his teammates about his struggles, especially the two teammates who may have to share the same floor in several weeks.

“The competitive nature of our team has been really terrific and we wouldn't want to trade that for anything,” Pondexter said. “It hurts those two guys aren't here right now. But we love them and we love what they brought to this team.

“I think my age on my ID solidifies me as one of the veterans. When you do things the right way, that's what it means to be a veteran. Show up first, last one there. That's what it means to be a veteran. Establishing myself there and doing things that are right, the guys have followed and listened and embraced me and I love it.”

No word on whether Pondexter got teary-eyed when he got a breakaway steal and dunk for his first points since the 2015 playoffs, when the Pelicans were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Warriors.

“I know I’m going to get emotional on the court later on and probably tear up,” Pondexter said after the morning shootaround. “I told Robin that a thousand times. People don’t know what you’ve been through. There are a lot of times they’re not there besides your close family and friends. I appreciate them carrying me through this whole process.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg can relate to Pondexter, with Hoiberg’s heart ailment cutting his career short. When the Bulls coach speaks about the frailty of the game and how precious things are in the NBA, Pondexter is living, breathing proof.

“I’m really really happy for Quincy. For a time there, his life was in danger with his infection. I know he’s really excited to get his career going again,” Hoiberg said. “I never got that opportunity to get back out there. I tell these guys to cherish it ever day. You never know when it can end. All of a sudden. For Quincy to get this chance, it’s awesome.”

Pondexter, with the straightest of faces, called basketball his “obsession” and he felt happy to get back on the floor, if even for a few minutes.

“I love it to death. It’s my life,” Pondexter said. “Basketball is what got me through it---my family and basketball. It was like, ‘How can I make this story even better? Do I quit?’ No. I watched so many inspirational movies, 'Hacksaw Ridge.' They get you through tough times because you say, ‘That’s going to be me.’ I’m going to be able to inspire someone down the road. That’s really helped me.”

A hamstring injury slowed Pondexter in training camp, which would explain his lack of explosive lift in the season opener.

No one was really sure if the Bulls would hold onto him for the season, but it’s clear he holds value beyond the box score. When he finished his media session, Lopez turned to Pondexter and said, “Now you’re stuck with me”, putting his arm around his teammate.

“Being able to play after two and a half years, it feels like hundreds of surgeries, getting traded to this organization. It's been a lot,” Pondexter said. “I wouldn't trade any of that for this moment right now and how I feel in my heart. I can't wait to get on this floor and play with my teammates and try to do something special. The journey is worth it.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: Trounced by Raptors in season opener

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Trounced by Raptors in season opener

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Will Perdue break down the Bulls season opener vs the Raptors. They’ll explain why Bulls fans should be very happy with the debut of rookie Lauri Markkanen and Kendall points out why he expects the Markkanen/Lavine combo to be great on the offensive end. They’ll also go over their concerns at point guard, and Will shares his story of how Greg Popovich dealt with a losing Spurs team in 1996-97.