Observations: Stilted Bulls fall to Spurs in Vučević's debut


The Bulls fell 120-104 to the San Antonio Spurs in Nikola Vučević's debut -- a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicates.

Here are 13 observations:

1. The Bulls came out of the gate disjointed at the offensive end. In the first quarter, they committed six turnovers en route to a 33-20 deficit. By halftime, they trailed 65-39 while shooting 34.7 percent and 3-for-19 from 3-point range. There was a lid on the basket and sloppiness (nine turnovers) persisted through the opening two periods.

A telling nugget: Vučević became the first Bull to crack double-figures at the 5:49 mark of the third quarter. By that time, the Spurs already had six players in double-figures.

2. As stilted as the Bulls' offense was, their lack of resistance defensively was even more notable. They Spurs posted 22 points in the paint in the first quarter against 20 points total from the Bulls. At the half, San Antonio was 62.2 percent from the floor, 16-for-20 in the paint and had 17 assists. A 26-point halftime margin swelled to as high as 36 in the third.

3. On a related note: Billy Donovan deployed early timeouts in each of the first two quarters. In the first, it came at the 9:10 mark, trailing 11-7. In the second, it came at 10:26, trailing 38-22. An 18-0 Spurs run turned a 40-27 lead into a 58-27 advantage between the 9:11 and 4:32 marks of the second.


4. On another related note: Lauri Markkanen stuck in the starting lineup alongside Vučević in the frontcourt, shifting Thad Young (10 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds) back to the bench. We'll see if that configuration holds when Daniel Theis -- out attending to a family matter -- joins the Bulls for their matchup with the Warriors on Monday, because concerns about the defensive viability of a Markkanen-Vučević frontcourt were confirmed and then some. The Spurs finished 17-for-22 in the restricted area, indicative of lacking rim protection.

5. Making matters worse, Markkanen was translucent offensively. He took just one shot in six first-quarter minutes and entered the half 2-for-6 from the field. Though he converted a drag-step and-one to pull the Bulls within 12 in the fourth, he finished 1-for-6 from 3-point range and with 10 points in 26 minutes.

6. The Bulls clearly made a concerted effort to get Vučević involved early. His fingerprints were all over the teams' opening possessions:

And Donovan brought him back as part of the unit that shaved the Spurs deficit to as few as nine in the fourth. Vučević scored 9 points in the final frame to push his line to: 21 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists -- shooting 9-for-16 from the field and 2-for-4 from deep -- in a team-high 32 minutes.

7. That late-third-to-fourth-quarter surge saw the Bulls trim a 36-point second-half deficit to as few as nine behind a smorgasbord of unlikely heroes, including freshly-minted acquisitions Troy Brown Jr., Javonte Green (2 steals, 1 block) and Al-Farouq Aminu.

8. Aminu was the only non-Vučević trade deadline acquisition to dent the early-game rotation, playing six first-half minutes. Denzel Valentine was Donovan's initial preferred option as a reserve wing alongside Garrett Temple, who played his first action since returning from an ankle injury.

9. Brown, though, got run down the stretch, checking in for the first time late in the third quarter and the Spurs ahead by 28 points. In his first possession, he calmly drilled a 3-pointer -- encouraging considering Donovan highlighted his outside shot (33 percent from deep in his career) as an inconsistency in his game. Two pretty lay-ins -- one off a euro-step in transition, the other a stop-and-go move into a reverse -- in the fourth, along with some rangy defense, provided more nice flashes. He finished with 8 points and 3 assists in 14 minutes.


10. Zach LaVine, who spent the day listed as questionable on the injury report with an ankle sprain sustained against the Cavaliers didn't look quite right. At the half, he had 5 points on 2-for-8 shooting. Though he scored 13 points in the third quarter, he finished an uncharacteristic 6-for-15 from the field (1-for-5 from 3-point land). Donovan didn't turn to him even as the contest got tight late as he logged just 28 minutes.

RELATED: LaVine intent on playing through ankle sprain

11. Coby White warrants a mention for posting 13 points and 4 assists (1 turnover) and providing some spark plug buckets as the Bulls threatened to rally. But he was one of many, including LaVine, to overlook Vučević for open opportunities.

12. The new-look Bulls hardly deterred Jakob Poeltl, who posted 20 points (8-for-9 shooting), 9 rebounds and 3 blocks after notching 20 points and 16 rebounds against them earlier in the season.

13. Keep in mind: This was the first game for a largely-overhauled roster integrating a new offensive focal point. Growing pains were to be expected, albeit not this extreme. And the Spurs are a well-coached group. These refurbished Bulls will be measured by their response.


Billy Donovan, on Bulls' offense: "I think on the offensive end of the floor we really really shot the ball poorly, and I thought when these guys see the film they are going to see a number of guys wide open."

Billy Donovan, on Bulls' defense: "The biggest thing we have to address is just our defense. I didn’t think we had enough presence at the basket for a good portion of the game. I think it started out top, our ball pressure and our guard pressure in the basketball pick-and-roll has to be much better. I thought the ball went wherever it wanted to go. And then I thought when it came downhill we didn’t have enough presence at the basket to contest and challenge."

Nikola Vučević's, on Bulls' offense: "It's always difficult when you make major changes like this team did and you bring in players that will have a major impact on the team... I think were just trying too much not to step on each other's toes, so we were a little passive... But I think that the way the offense is that won't take too long as far as me just getting that feel for it and everybody else that's new."


Next up: At the Golden State Warriors on Monday. The Bulls play eight of their night nine games on the road -- with five of those contests coming against teams above .500.

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