DETROIT — Zach LaVine calls Luke Kornet “The Big Stretch.”
“All he does is stretch,” LaVine said, laughing. “Look at him.”
Indeed, there Kornet was, rolling on an exercise ball in the locker room after the Bulls snapped their six-game losing streak and swept the four-game season series from the Pistons with a 108-99 victory.
One night after allowing 70 points in the paint and ruing the extended absence of Wendell Carter Jr. to a sprained right ankle, the Bulls got plenty of production from the center position.
Kornet showed he can be a big stretch in a different way, stretching the floor with three 3-pointers en route to a season-high 15 points in a season-high 25 minutes. And Daniel Gafford, in his second NBA start, stuffed the box score with 14 points, seven rebounds and a block before fouling out with 2:10 left.
But Gafford’s matchup had left well earlier. Andre Drummond got ejected for throwing the ball at Gafford’s head after Gafford scored and taunted the Pistons’ All-Star center, prompting a double technical foul.
“I mean, you know I’m not just going to come out and have a guy bigger than me bully me. I understand you have the size on you. But I’m not going to back down from a challenge,” Gafford said. “I like challenges whether I succeed or fail. Tonight, I succeeded. And I’m pretty sure he knows that.”
That’s strong talk from a second-round pick who has proven time and again he’s not afraid of the moment. The Bulls blocked six shots overall, two by Kornet, and allowed only 48 points in the paint.
Kornet finished plus-20.
“I don’t think I was necessarily surprised,” Kornet said of his extended minutes. “With Wendell out, we need people to step up. You have to do your best to stay ready.
“The beginning of the season was really disappointing and difficult, going through some stuff. It’s good to help the team because that’s what I was brought here to do.”
Indeed, Kornet played ineffectively to start the season before succumbing to sinus surgery. Gafford then leapfrogged him in the rotation.
Now, with Carter out four to six weeks, both centers are looking at fresh starts.
“I didn’t carry anything over from (Friday) night. That was somewhat of a bad game for me. I was doing a lot of things on defense that I don’t do personally,” Gafford said. “I wanted to have a different look on it. I wanted to be more efficient.”
He was. And so was Kornet.
“Luke Kornet was brought here because of his character,” coach Jim Boylen said. “He had a very difficult October and November and December. And he kept working. And he battled through. We felt he was guy who could play in the pocket. He could also pop and shoot. He’s a very good passer. And he can rim protect. He had two blocks. I’m really happy for Luke. He’s really been grinding.”
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