The bench unit led a thunderous second-half comeback, but the Bulls fell 129-125 to the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night at the United Center. The first half painted a stark picture of ongoing flaws the Bulls haven’t fixed after the offseason.
Here are four takeaways from the preseason opener.
1. Dalen Terry makes an impression.
The rookie quickly won over Bulls fans in his preseason debut. Terry came off the bench in the second half, scoring 11 points to lead a 23-point comeback that regained the lead for the Bulls with four minutes to play.
The Bulls ultimately fumbled the lead, but Terry showed his ability to change a game, finishing with seven rebounds, two assists and two steals.
He sparked the Bulls in transition with his defensive pressure, stealing the ball and slamming down a dunk in a full-court breakaway in the fourth quarter to push the Bulls ahead by four points.
2. Defense flounders in first outing.
The Bulls defense disintegrated under pressure, allowing the Pelicans to score 40 points in the first quarter and 70 in the first half.
The Pelicans carved through the Bulls’ nonexistent interior defense, scoring 62 points in the paint despite four blocked shots from Nikola Vučević.
Zion Williamson overwhelmed the Bulls defense, scoring 13 points before sitting out most of the second half. The Bulls remain undersized even after signing Andre Drummond in the offseason. As a result, the defense struggled to switch in the pick-and-roll against Williamson, allowing him to wreak havoc around the rim.
“We’ve got a long way to go defensively, there’s no question about that,” coach Billy Donovan said after the loss.
3. Starting point guard position remains wide open.
Poor ball security plagued the team throughout the game — the Bulls turned the ball over 26 times while registering 27 assists, stalling in the half-court offense throughout the first half.
Zach LaVine contributed four of those turnovers and Goran Dragić had three. Alex Caruso provided the most consistent hand bringing up the ball with no turnovers and one assist, but he went 0-for-2 from 3-point range.
Coby White suffered a left thigh bruise less than three minutes after entering the game and remained sidelined for the rest of the night despite requesting to return in the second half.
Donovan hasn’t committed to a starting point guard for the regular season, and before the game he emphasized the fluidity of the role while Ball remains sidelined.
“I’m not that wrapped up in who’s starting or not,” Donovan said. “The combination of players and how those guys all jell and mesh and function together would be more important with where we are at that spot.”
4. Jury out on Patrick Williams.
Williams knew the challenge when he entered the preseason — prove he can compete with the aggression required of an NBA starter.
But the third-year power forward remained timid against the Pelicans, getting outmuscled repeatedly at the rim by Williamson and collecting only five rebounds.
Williams pulled the trigger on offense with slightly more confidence than last season, but his finishing wasn’t clean enough to make an impact. He finished 2-for-7 from the field, making a lone 3-pointer in the third quarter.