LaVine able to pull Bulls out of doldrums in season-opening win over Pistons
DETROIT -- One game in, it's tough to tell if this was a positive result for the Bulls, or more that they dodged a big negative.
In their season opener on Wednesday, the Bulls did not have an easy time with the Detroit Pistons, trailing for most of the night.
The offense wasn't clicking and the Bulls quickly resorted to hero ball. The second group they'd been counting on couldn't get any traction.
But the Bulls do have a more confident, mature Zach LaVine. He handled this situation the way an all-star should. He took over the game, scored an efficient 34 points and dragged his team to a reluctant 94-88 victory at Little Caesar's Arena.
It wasn't pretty, wasn't necessarily well-played, and the Pistons figure to land another top-10 draft pick after this season. But it was a lot better than the alternative: an ugly, head-scratching loss, which has happened more than a few times to this team.
"This ain't last year," LaVine said. "We're looking forward now. This is a whole new team, whole new mindset. Excited that we grinded that one out and a win's a win."
Lavine hit 11 of 17 shots, was a perfect 11 for 11 at the foul line and played well on the defensive end. The Pistons exploited the Bulls' front line at times, but it's hard to fault the defensive effort, considering Detroit scored 88 points and went scoreless during a key 3½ minute stretch of the fourth quarter.
"Got to understand it's a new team," said DeMar DeRozan, who added 17 points. "There's got to be a lot of learning curves we've got to get through. We showed a lot of heart by just digging down, figuring out, didn't let really nothing affect us. We got down a few times, they made a few runs. We didn't let that frustrate us. We kept digging in the right direction and that says a lot right there to open up and do that on the road first game of the season."
The fact that management did an extreme makeover to the Bulls' roster created both excitement and optimism, but there are also just three players still on the roster from last year's season opener -- LaVine, Patrick Williams and the injured Coby White. Center Nikola Vucevic had a nice game, with 15 points and 15 rebounds.
"I'm always confident. I put the work in," LaVine said. "But having this dude (DeRozan) next to me, having Vuc next to me, that makes me more confident and more ready to play. We have a bunch of dogs on the team now, guys that will step up for each other. I'm really excited, but a win's a win and we're going to go forward from here."
The Bulls trailed by as many as 9 points, then found some life following intermission as LaVine scored 15 points. The Bulls scored just 3 bench points in the first half -- on one Alex Caruso 3-pointer -- so coach Billy Donovan turned to rookie Ayo Dosunmu and he delivered a much-needed 7 points.
The former Illini star scored the first two baskets of his NBA career in a span of 4 seconds as he hit a lay-in, then did it again off a quick steal by Caruso. Dosunmu had a few jittery moments, but added a 3-pointer, which kept the Bulls in the game and helped buy LaVine a little more rest for the stretch run.
The Bulls took the lead for good with 6:22 left when a Lonzo Ball 3-pointer made it 84-82. They didn't find any breathing room until LaVine hit a pair of free throws to make it 92-86 with 24.4 seconds left, their largest lead of the game to that point.
"I was really happy we gave ourselves a chance to win not playing very well on offense," Donovan said. "That to me was the positive. This is the hardest part for us to figure out because they're all used to offenses running through them. Zach last year, Vuc in Orlando, and DeMar.
"The beauty of those three guys is they're so unselfish. But it's a little bit different for them and we've got to coexist off each other a little bit better than we did."