The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
He came to Hoffman Estates; he saw Delaware; he conquered the doubts. Veni; vidi; vici; And now with victory in hand, Jerian Grant likely returns triumphant to the Bulls with the highest scoring game in the short Windy City Bulls history after scoring 34 points in Saturday’s Windy City 121-110 win over the Delaware 87ers.
“Nothing like getting game reps no matter what level,” Grant said. “Get in there, get some conditioning; played more than 40 minutes. Just staying ready in a game type situation. I just wanted to go out and play and do what I do, work on a little bit of everything; it felt good to be out there. We have a lot of guys up there (with the Bulls) who have the ball in their hands the majority of the game; for me to be in that second unit, or if I get a chance to be in that starting unit again, just wanted to show I can make plays like I did against Portland, against Utah.”
Grant, the second year 6-4 guard from Notre Dame, made plenty of plays in likely his quick trip to play a game for the new Windy City Bulls. He was joined by Bulls teammates Cristiano Felicio, who had 20 points and 12 rebounds, and R.J. Hunter with 19 points. Windy City forward J.J. Avila, a three-point shooter who was in the Bulls training camp, added 24 points. Windy City after a 17-point first quarter lead behind Grant’s 11 first quarter points rallied from trailing by four in the fourth quarter to pull away in the last three minutes of a spirited, fast paced game.
The Bulls added a D-league franchise this season, playing in the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, primarily for this purpose, to give reserves out of the rotation a chance for additional playing time in case of need.
Grant had played well in relief of an injured Rajon Rondo in Portland and Utah to open the road trip. But his playing time diminished thereafter while Felicio and Hunter are not currently in the Bulls playing rotation. So with four off days before the next Bulls game Wednesday home against the Lakers, the Bulls took the opportunity to get their guys some playing time.
All played at least 38 minutes as the Windy City team improved to 3-3 with the victory over the Philadelphia D-league entry.
“It was great to have them,” said Windy City coach Nate Loenser. “It was a unique situation with them in Philadelphia late Friday night. Selfishly you’d like to have them longer, but you understand the deal. I think it was good for them. I thought Jerian was very aggressive. We wanted to have the ball in his hands, be the facilitator; wanted R.J. in those situations and some touches for Cris; wanted all to experience game looks in a five-on-five setting and running the stuff we essentially run with the Chicago Bulls.”
So Grant played point guard, amassing seven assists with three turnovers, though his strength was driving to the basket. He was nine of 11 on free throws and three of eight on threes. He also went into the post several times for turnaround jump shots, making a pair down the stretch in the fourth quarter to help guarantee the victory along with back to back threes earlier in the fourth quarter when Windy City fell behind.
Windy City plays next Tuesday in Long Island. It is assumed all three will be back with the Bulls before then. The Bulls have not stated further plans regarding players for Windy City.
Grant is considered a backup point guard for the Bulls, though his strength is scoring. So the Bulls wanted him handling the ball more, and he played mostly point guard Saturday. But Grant pointed out in the NBA these days most of the point guards do most of the scoring.
“In this league nowadays you probably have three or four true point guards,” said Grant, who was acquired in the Derrick Rose trade along with Robin Lopez. “Guys are out there scoring; maybe they’re the lead guard handing the ball. But nowadays guards are out there shooting, passing, scoring. So point guards are doing a little bit everything. Point guard/shooting guard is not that much of a difference. They are getting their assists, but they’re able to break down defenses and knock down shots and I think I can be one of those guards.
“For right now for me,” Grant added, “it’s the defense that is going to put me over the top; we have a lot of scorers, a lot of guys who can shoot. So me being able to get out there and defend guys like Damian Lillard. If I can get minutes against guys like that and show I can defend then maybe I can get out there a little more.”
Felicio posted good offensive numbers with a soft shot, though he had six turnovers and struggled on defense at times.
“I was just trying to create my shots,” Felicio said. “It is something I don’t have a chance to do much. I keep working, and when my chance comes again I’ll be ready to take the opportunity and hopefully I’ll be playing more. For now I am good; I am here and playing; it’s a good situation for me to get some playing time and work on my game.”
Felicio was pleased to get the 38 minutes after falling out of the playing rotation for Bobby Portis. Portis was in attendance courtside along with teammate Isaiah Canaan, Canaan even venturing into the stands to sign autographs and pose for selfies during the game.
Felicio is a playful type as well and before the game he was browsing in the souvenir store, which is just off the playing court.
“Taking a look at the shirts,” he said. “They have some pretty nice stuff; maybe some day I will get some. I just try to lead my life like regular people do, going out, having fun, not hiding; just trying to enjoy everything.”
Hunter had played two games with Windy City before joining the Bulls after his release from Boston. He made some tough shots late, but got off to a slow start and was one of five on threes in the first half. He finished two of eight on threes, but with some strong driving baskets. The best shooter was Bulls camper Avila, who showed a smooth stroke from three-point range, making three of five. The 6-7 forward from Colorado State is shooting about 40 percent on threes to lead the team. He’s a little small, though, for an NBA power forward.
Former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie again was impressive as the top player on the team, mostly deferring to Grant. Dinwiddie made three of five threes for 11 points and five assists mostly playing off the ball this time. Though he was scoreless, it’s always enjoyable to watch guard Thomas Walkup, who also was in Bulls camp, since he spends much of the game collecting floor burns.
Grant played 41 minutes and finished strong with 14 fourth quarter points along with four assists. He feels ready, but the chances are sparse. It’s difficult, he admits, but things happen in the NBA.
“It’s definitely tough to go from playing 30 minutes to playing zero minutes,” he said. “But I always stay ready. I know I’ll have another opportunity, so something like this will make me even more ready; a confidence booster, conditioning booster. So it was good.
“Getting the opportunity on the trip and being ready and then going up against Damian Lillard, one of the top five, I’d say, point guards in the league, getting a win, playing well on offense and defense; that was a boost for me. And getting another win in Utah was great. It’s difficult when you go right back to the bench. Like I said, I think my opportunity will come again. I’m staying ready and I’ll be ready for that (next) one, too.”