CHICAGO — Bulls shooting guard Zach LaVine scored 14 points in his season debut in Saturday night’s 107-105 win over the Detroit Pistons, after missing almost a year while recovering from a left ACL injury.
“It felt really good,” LaVine said after the game. “Just to be out there playing again, having that feeling; I haven’t had it in such a long time. To get the win, cap it off; I’d love to play in the fourth quarter, but I’ll be able to soon. It was just a good night overall.”
LaVine hadn’t played in an NBA game since injuring the knee in Detroit (of all places) on Feb. 3, 2017, as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was traded to the Bulls on draft night as part of a deal that sent All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler to Minnesota.
LaVine seemed to enjoy the stage that comes with playing at the United Center, and he appreciated Bulls fans giving him a nice ovation after the game during an on-court postgame interview.
His teammates and coaches were happy to see LaVine back on the floor after watching him put in the rehab work over the past few months.
“Just [him] being there is a huge confidence for us,” Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic said. “Because we all know he’s been practicing hard, working hard to be back and to be with us. He’s a great guy, he’s a great teammate, and we were all looking forward for this.”
LaVine was introduced last during Saturday’s starting introductions, a spot usually reserved for the face of the team. Whether he can live up to that mantle over time remains to be seen, but the 22-year-old has been open about his desire to stay in Chicago for the long term and lock in an extension over the summer. Bulls executive vice president John Paxson also has been open about his desire to have LaVine serve as a part of the Bulls’ core moving forward.
LaVine showed flashes of the high-level athleticism that has defined his career to this point, taking heart in the time and effort it took to make it make to playing again in an NBA game.
“A lot of long nights,” LaVine said. “Brutal workouts. Fun times, ups and downs, an emotional roller coaster. You’re strong to get through that. I think it made me a better person, a better player. Just happy to come out and get back and do what I love doing. It was a long process. That full year, especially being away from basketball. It sucks.”
Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg said he would keep LaVine around the 20-minute limit for playing time over the next few games.
LaVine did not play in the fourth quarter, but he is confident his time to close games will come soon. He reported no pain in the knee postgame and seemed to fit in nicely with the rhythm of play that the young Bulls have developed in recent weeks.
“He’s a very smooth player and has a lot of confidence to rise up in his first shot and knock down a 3,” Hoiberg said. “It shows you that he’s been itching for this moment to get out there and back on the floor with his teammates. I thought he played very effective and efficient. I thought he took good shots, he played within himself, made good plays when they stepped up and double-teamed him … a really good first game.
“I’m sure it’s a relief for him to get this night over.”