It wasn’t his first game at the United Center, but tonight, rookie guard Kendrick Nunn made his NBA debut in his home city of Chicago. And he made it count.
In front of 300 family members and friends — really, 300 — Nunn showed out, dropping 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting (3-of-8 from three) on the home court of the team he grew up revering.
“It means a lot,” Nunn said, on getting the opportunity to play in Chicago. “I grew up watching the Bulls… When D-Rose was here, that was one of my favorite times, when he was playing with the Bulls in his early years. The first four years, getting an MVP, watching that. Bringing that to Chicago was big, so I'm just happy to be here.”
Nunn and Rose share a connection beyond the television screen, as well. Both attended — and were highly touted at — Simeon High School, a program that has produced a litany of NBA players, including Jabari Parker, Nick Anderson and Bobby Simmons. Nunn, a four-star recruit coming out of high school, led Simeon to a 2012 Illinois Class 4A championship alongside Parker.
He then committed to the University of Illinois but was dismissed months after his junior season after being arrested on domestic battery charges in March 2016. His dismissal from the program was made official after pleading guilty to one misdemeanor domestic battery charge related to the incident.
“I’ve been through this countless times with the number of Chicago guys I’ve played,” Eric Spoelstra said, citing Dwayne Wade, specifically, as someone who had a special appreciation for the chance to return home.
“This is a business trip — it's only one quick day — and Kendrick understands that,” Spoelstra continued. “He's able to see some family and I know he's got everybody coming to the game tonight, and that's the great thing.”
“It's been great. Being able to come home, I don't get to see my family often,” Nunn said. “Made me feel good.”
But could that element of potential added pressure have pushed Nunn to try to do too much, especially early on?
“Not at all,” Nunn said after shootaround. “I'm pretty good at coming in the game and finding flow within the rhythm of the game and not trying to force anything.”
Things were certainly rhythmic and fluid for the Heat out of the gates Friday night. Nunn scored 10 of the team’s first 15 points, as Miami jumped out to a 15-0 lead on the Bulls just over four minutes into the first quarter.
That type of torrid stretch has become common for Nunn this season. He’s averaging 17.6 points, 3.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game for the Heat and has supplanted long-tenured starting point guard Goran Dragic in their starting lineup.
“Tough guy, hard-nosed, Chicago-type basketball player,” teammate Jimmy Butler said. “We're so glad that we have him on our team because I wouldn't want to go up against him.”
Before the game, Nunn downplayed the impact playing in front of family and friends would have on his performance. But surely, after dropping 20+ and sparking a blowout victory in his hometown, no one would blame him for basking in the night.
Not so much.
“It was normal to me,” Nunn said. “When I play the game, I don't think about anyone in the stands or anything like that, I'm trying to win the game.”
For tonight, mission accomplished.
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