It took only minutes for Phillips to stand out in Sunday’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers, bounding through the air for a two-handed volleyball-style block. And Phillips made another splashy impression on the United Center crowd in the opening minutes of Tuesday’s 118-107 loss to the Toronto Raptors, sinking a 3-pointer and drawing a foul to score his first points in the opening quarter.
First impressions are important. But if the Bulls are going to survive the roughly two weeks left before the All-Star break, Phillips will need to fill a hefty role.
The Bulls are currently playing without a power forward as both Patrick Williams and Torrey Craig are sidelined with injuries for at least two more weeks. Coach Billy Donovan plans to fill the role with a combination of Phillips and guard Alex Caruso.
It’s tricky for a team to count on the consistency of a 20-year-old rookie. But Phillips has shown through his first two games stepping up in Williams’ stead that he can reliably provide one key factor: energy.
“Young guys, they’re going to have their ups and downs,” Donovan said. “Sometimes for younger players, these situations create opportunities and I give him credit for keeping himself ready and giving us a really good boost off the bench. So I got a lot of confidence in him in terms of the way he has worked to prepare himself to go in there. I think his athleticism and his energy, if we get that into the game on a regular basis, that will be just as equally as important as making shots.”
Phillips tallied nine points and a rebound off the bench in Tuesday’s loss. Here are three other takeaways.
1. Dalen Terry’s injury heightens concern for the Bulls.
The Bulls suffered yet another injury blow in the final 30 seconds of the third quarter when Dalen Terry appeard to injure his right ankle.
Terry tore down the court to attempt a layup in transition but crashed into two Toronto players before tumbling awkwardly on top of several photographers on the sideline. Visibly in pain, Terry attempted to stand up twice before collapsing to the ground to hold his ankle. He was carried to the locker room by training staff and did not put any more weight on his foot.
Donovan said after the game X-rays came back negative for Terry and his injury has been diagnosed as a sprain. He was using crutches in the locker room.
The loss is significant for the Bulls, who are already playing without Zach LaVine, Williams and Craig. Terry was supposed to be one of the players to help absorb minutes at power forward. Without him, the Bulls will have to rely solely on Caruso and Phillips to cover the position.
2. A first half 16-point lead was squandered in the third quarter.
The Bulls were in a dominant position in the first half, tallying a 16-point lead by halftime. But they continued to repeat a pattern of coming out sluggish to start the second half, allowing the Raptors to outscore them 37-26 in the third quarter.
The Raptors tied the game with 2:46 left in the third quarter.
“We can’t ease our way back into the second half of a game,” DeRozan said. “We’ve got to lead. We’ve got to come out and build on it. I think we tried to ease our way back into the game again instead of just trying to put the foot on the gas and play with more of a sense of urgency. It’s a critical time, a critical point of the season where we need every single game.”
3. Turnovers defined another loss.
The Bulls have been consistently strong at ball protection throughout this season, but high-turnover nights have fueled their losses the last three weeks.
On Tuesday, the Bulls coughed up 30 points off 17 turnovers — 21 of which were scored in the second half. DeMar DeRozan turned the ball over five times as the Raptors threw traps to force the ball out of his hands.
This was slightly offset by the Raptors giving up 14 points on 19 turnovers, but the Bulls were unable to make up the difference.