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Chris Duhon : : My Most MemoraBull Game

Chris Duhon
More Most MemoraBull Game Features:
Tom Boerwinkle | Tyson Chandler | Artis Gilmore
Ben Gordon | Jerry Sloan | Nate Thurmond
Reggie Theus | Norm Van Lier

Posted April 22, 2008

By Chris Duhon as told to Brett Ballantini

November 2, 2005 | United Center | Chicago, IL
Chicago Bulls 109, Charlotte Bobcats 105 (OT)

Playing time hasn’t ever been an issue for me. Like just about everybody in the NBA, I was usually one of the better players on my team growing up, even when I first arrived at Duke University, one of the premier college programs in the country. But I graduated from Duke; I fell into the second round of the 2004 Draft, which meant I would most likely start my pro career on the bench.

We were quite a rookie class in 2004. Joining the Bulls with me that year were two other players from major college programs, Ben Gordon from Connecticut and Luol Deng, my teammate for a year at Duke. The Bulls also signed a free-agent from Argentina who’d never played in the NBA before, Andres Nocioni. All four of us ended up making a big impact right away, and suddenly there was a buzz going on around Chicago about the Bulls, who hadn’t made the playoffs since the team won the NBA title back in 1998.

Well, that optimism ended rather quickly, because we started the season 0-9, which tied us for the worst start in franchise history. In my very first game, I played 38 minutes and had a team-high eight assists—but we lost in double-overtime against Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets, 111-106.

But we eventually turned things around after that bad start, with winning streaks of five, seven, and five games through the end of January. And the best thing was we were just getting started—our second-half playoff push ended with us at 47-35 on the year, in second place in the Central Division, and hosting the Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs. We had some injuries and other things slow us down during the postseason, but, then again, we’d advanced faster than anyone expected, and hopes were really high for the next year (2005.06).

Chris Duhon Possessing the savvy of a grizzled veteran, playmaker Chris Duhon’s ability to stay poised under pressure has directed a number of Bulls comebacks.
Life sure was good for me as a rookie. Even though I was a second-round pick and was a little overshadowed by our two first-round lottery picks, I played in every game and started 73. On April 16 vs. Atlanta, I shot eight-of-nine from the field and had a career-high 24 points, and I followed that with a career high-tying 10 assists in our next game vs. New York.

I was a restricted free-agent after my rookie season, and the Toronto Raptors made me a very nice offer to be their new point guard. However, John Paxson had other ideas and it felt great that he and the Bulls valued me enough to match the offer to keep me in Chicago.

Heading into my second year, I had a little setback late in the preseason in a game in Minnesota where I went up for a layup and took a really hard foul from T-Wolves forward Eddie Griffin. I was in a bad position, and my head hit the ground pretty hard. I had to be immobilized and strapped to a stretcher, and immediately I was taken to a local hospital for x-rays and observation. On TV, it looked worse than it really was, and I was immobilized as a precaution—but, man, what a scary experience.

Those kinds of hits can be truly frightening. No one ever wants to think that they’re going to get hurt, but sometimes it happens. You just have to play with a clear mind and stay focused, or else the thing you fear—getting hurt—will probably happen.

I didn’t lose consciousness or anything. I always had feeling in my arms and legs. But I suffered a bad concussion and had to spend the night in the hospital.

The worst part of the injury was that it made my neck really sore, and a week later is when we opened the season in Chicago vs. the Charlotte Bobcats. I was hungry to get back on the floor and help prevent another bad start like the one we went through my rookie year.

That game we started out really flat, and for a good while it didn’t look like we were going to win the season opener, even though we were playing a team we knew we should beat. Hey, Charlotte was a second-year expansion team that had only won 18 games the year before, and we were postseason veterans. There is just no way we should’ve lost— especially at home.

But that night, Charlotte was the one playing like a playoff team. They jumped out to a quick 28-20 lead at the end of the first, and by halftime they had us buried, 59-40.

I have to be honest: I was hurting bad that night, but I really wanted to be out on the floor, contributing to an opening-night victory. When you love the game, you play through pain and fatigue. There are always bumps and bruises; my neck was in pretty bad shape, but I had played through my final NCAA Tournament with an injured shoulder and bruised ribs about a year and a half earlier, so I knew I was capable of sucking it up.

Now, being down 19 points at halftime on opening night, you figure our Head Coach, Scott Skiles, would’ve torn into us in the locker room, and that we’d come out spitting fire at the start of the third quarter and run all over Charlotte, right? Well, it didn’t exactly work out that way. Scott certainly let us know he wasn’t happy, but when we came out to the floor, we still were flat, and the Bobcats increased their lead to 25 points. Worse, Kirk Hinrich twisted an ankle on a layup attempt near the end of the quarter and was lost for the rest of the game.

Tyson Chandler In overtime, Tyson Chandler’s thundering dunk with a little over a minute to go sealed the victory for Chicago.
So not only were we way behind at the start of the final quarter, but now our floor general was hurt. So, if we were going to win, it was on me to lead us back.

As a point guard, my job is to be a leader on both ends of the court, getting guys in position to shoot open shots and make smart decisions with the ball. Basically, anything I can do to lead our team is what I’m out there to do.

You always have to be ready, because you never know what’s going to happen. Basketball can be a crazy game, and, when an opportunity comes, you’ve just got to be ready. I’d already done that as a rookie, by going from a second-round pick to a starter, so while losing Kirk certainly didn’t help, I felt prepared to lead us no matter how huge the hole was that we’d dug.

Towards the end of the third, we made a little run to trim Charlotte’s lead, but we were still down 21 heading into the fourth, 89-68. Coach Skiles felt he had no choice but to go to the bench in hopes of finding a spark, so, other than leaving me in the game, he brought fresh legs in to start the fourth. All of a sudden, things started to click. The guy who really led us back was Eric Piatkowski. Let me tell you, Pike was a great teammate, and whenever we needed a spark, he was always there to provide it.

For some reason, Pike was the 12th man off our bench, as he didn’t even get to play until the fourth quarter, but once he came in, he flat out lit it up. He hit a long three-pointer with 3:24 left that got us to within eight, 95-87, and chased that with another pull-up jumper, his only attempt in the game from two-point range, to get us within six. We ended up going on a 21-4 run to pull to 95-89 before Gerald Wallace knocked down another crazy three from the corner, but by that time we were within striking distance.

We weren’t only hitting our shots, but we turned the defensive pressure way up on the ‘Cats and Charlotte started making a ton of mistakes. The tenor of the game completely flipped in our favor.

You can certainly feel momentum swing back and forth throughout a game. We now had it on our side in the fourth. We weren’t hitting any jumpers earlier in the game, so we started to drive to the basket to force the issue. Doing that eventually opened the door for us to get open looks out on the perimeter, and in the fourth we started nailing them.

Sometimes teams can get too excited and start jacking up wild shots, and that’s sort of what happened to Charlotte. I guess we rattled them enough that they began taking a lot of unnecessary threes. Our tenacity on defense and efficiency on offense had pressured them into rushing, despite their holding a big lead—and that helped speed our comeback.

As time ticked down, I hit a three-pointer from the corner with only 34 seconds left to go to cut Charlotte’s lead to three, 98-95. On our next possession, Darius Songaila hit a three from the top of the key to tie it at 98 with only 5 seconds left. Gerald Wallace then got the ball to Raymond Felton, but Felton missed a jumper as time expired, and suddenly we were headed to overtime!

Like I said earlier, the momentum clearly had shifted in our favor, thanks to a 30-9 fourth quarter and the deafening roar of a sold-out United Center. And once we got into overtime, we knew we were going to win.

Tyson Chandler was the big hero in OT. With the score tied at 102, Tyson hit a layup to put us up by two with 2:12 remaining. Then, with a minute left, he extended our lead to 106-102 with a thundering jam off a Songaila pass.

Chris Duhon Another unlikely opening night hero was newcomer Darius Songaila, whose three-pointer with 5 seconds left on the game clock tied the score at 98, and forced overtime.
This was Darius’s first game with the Bulls, and he had a great one: 11 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals. He also hit two free throws with 8.5 seconds left to seal the game at 109-105. Tyson ended up with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and five other guys finished in double-figures in scoring, including me, Pike, Ben Gordon, Michael Sweetney and Luol Deng.

Our second unit guys were the heroes that night. They did what they were supposed to do; when things aren’t going well, you need to be able to change the energy and find a way to mount a comeback.

Pike was the one that night who really stood out. People might not think it’s a challenge to sit on the bench for an extended stretch, and then hit the floor hot, making all the right moves and playing tight defense. Believe me, it is. For Eric to have come into this game with such energy and focus, when the team was flat and getting smoked was an incredible lift for everyone.

Pike ended up playing the entire fourth quarter and overtime, scoring 11 points in 17 minutes. Emeka went for 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Gerald Wallace tied his career high of 28 points on 11-of-16 shooting. Afterwards, Charlotte’s coach, Bernie Bickerstaff, said we got an early Christmas present, but I think that comment really cheated our effort.

I had the first triple-double of my career, with 18 points on five-of-nine shooting, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds. Those 10 boards were huge, because usually I get cheated on rebounds. One day maybe I’ll be like the big guys, where all they have to do is breathe on the ball to get credit for a board, but I have to scrap for every one. Perhaps the most significant stat, especially on a night where I wasn’t feeling very sharp, was my two turnovers.

Coming off a playoff run and considering all the promise we had heading into 2005.06, I never thought we’d be down 25 in our home opener. To be able to lead a comeback is something to take pride in. It’s a great opportunity, really. And that fourth quarter vs. Charlotte and the game as a whole—wow! It was one of the biggest comebacks I’ve ever been a part of.