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Just days ago, coach Scott Skiles and general manager John Paxson hinted about tough times ahead for the Bulls.
But they could not have fathomed a 25-point third-quarter deficit in their season opener against Charlotte on Wednesday night at the United Center, the kickoff of the Bulls' 40th season.
It seemed even less likely that Darius Songaila, a new Bull, could sink a tying three-pointer with 5.1 seconds left in regulation and force overtime.
Or that he would send a crisp pass to Tyson Chandler for a thunderous slam dunk in the extra session.
After all, Skiles had said he didn't want to put pressure on his new guys.
Songaila looked nothing like a new kid in his Bulls debut, putting away the game with two free throws with 8.5 seconds left in the Bulls' 109-105 victory.
He finished with 11 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals.
"I definitely didn't picture us being down 25 points in the third quarter," Songaila said. "The comeback we made, it was one the greatest comebacks I've been a part of."
It took a returning veteran to ignite the Bulls' rally in the fourth quarter. Eric Piatkowski, in his 12th season, didn't play until the final quarter but used his deft perimeter shooting to bring the Bulls back. He scored 11 points, one of seven Bulls in double figures.
"It's never nice being the last guy in the game," Piatkowski said before releasing a grin. "But if that's the way it's going to be ..."
Said Skiles: "I can't give Pike enough credit. He sat over there the whole time and then he came in, and it was a big difference, the energy that he played with compared to the other guys."
The game was full of unlikely heroes for the Bulls. Chris Duhon turned in his first triple-double to lead them. He scored 18 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and collected 12 assists. He committed just two turnovers--all of this just a week after he spent a night in the hospital with a mild concussion.
Duhon's role could remain significant, especially if the status of an injured Kirk Hinrich gets shaky. Hinrich, one of the team's most valuable players and a captain, left the court with 2 minutes 48 seconds left in the third quarter with what trainer Fred Tedeschi called a mild to moderate sprain of his left ankle. He left the United Center on crutches and will be evaluated Thursday.
Hinrich finished with nine points, four assists and four turnovers.
"When you lose your floor general, everyone has to step their game up," Duhon said.
The Bulls' sluggish play through three quarters would leave them buried against many teams. Charlotte, which was led by Gerald Wallace's 28 points, is a second-year team that won only 18 games last season.
"I've been on both ends of a game like this," Skiles said. "You end up feeling almost a little bad about it because they outplayed us for three quarters--handily."
Many of the Bulls' weaknesses were exposed. They had 18 turnovers but only four in the second half. Charlotte had the edge in rebounding and free-throw shooting.