Torrey Craig was skeptical when he initially received an 8-10 week recovery timeline in December.
He knew the injury was unique. A sprained plantar fascia meant acute pain in his heel eviscerated his ability to cut and explode, two central keys to his production on both sides of the court as a valuable two-way player.
But Craig knew his body and his work ethic. Within two or three weeks, he told the media in December he’d certainly be back.
“Wishful thinking, man,” Craig said with a laugh after practice Friday.
Craig didn’t achieve his two-week goal. But when he returned to the United Center court in Saturday’s 123-115 loss to the Sacramento Kings, he still managed to beat the initial prognosis by nearly two weeks.
“It was a longer process than I thought,” Craig said. “I had a minor setback early on, but everything’s been good since then, it’s been stronger and feeling better each day. I’m excited to get back.”
Craig was an active part in the Bulls’ turnaround after a 5-14 start, playing in eight games (with a 5-3 record) of that upswing before his injury. The Bulls then went 13-9 in his absence. Craig was averaging 6.1 points and 4.8 rebounds in 21.2 minutes and briefly moved into the starting lineup before he was sidelined.
The Bulls are trapped in a dire situation due to injuries. Zach LaVine is done for the season. Patrick Williams is sidelined for weeks. Dalen Terry is out with a right ankle sprain. Coby White is nursing a left ankle injury. With close to a full starting lineup on the injury report, Craig’s return was a welcomed change of pace.
Donovan said Saturday that Craig was limited to 20 minutes of playing time. He ultimately played 14 minutes and tallied five points and three rebounds.
Here are five other takeaways from the game.
1. Third-quarter comeback
The Bulls quickly acquiesced to the high-paced scoring of the Kings, who ripped off 39 points in the second quarter to close the first half with a 19-point lead. The Kings built their lead to 30 points in the opening minutes of the third quarter on the back of an explosive performance by De’Aaron Fox, who finished with 41 points.
The Bulls finally slowed the Kings offense, aided by a 3-for-13 3-point shooting stretch for the Kings in the third quarter. White slammed a one-handed dunk and Alex Caruso swatted away a Fox shot in the final ten seconds to close the third quarter with the deficit carved down to 10 points.
2. Key turnovers deflate comeback in clutch moments
The Bulls cut the deficit as close as four points in the final three minutes of the game. But several turnovers in the clutch kept the Bulls from fully executing a 30-point comeback.
Despite turning the ball over only twice in the fourth quarter, both came at key moments — White lost control of a ball at the 3:17 mark while trailing seven points and Caruso sent a bad pass that resulted in a backcourt violation with 2:25 left with the deficit down to five points.
The Bulls had already turned the ball over nine times in the first half as the team continues to experience an increase in overall turnovers through the past 10 games. They finished with 16 total turnovers.
3. Scoring defined by 3-point shooting
The game swung around both teams’ abilities to shoot from behind the arc. The Kings took an early lead by shooting lights-out from 3-point range, going 9-for-18 in the first half while the Bulls managed only 4-for-16 shooting.
That dynamic flipped in the second half. The Kings dropped to 6-for-21 from behind the arc while the Bulls marginally improved to 7-for-18. While it wasn’t enough of a swing for the Bulls to overtake the Kings, this drop off in 3-point shooting allowed them to chip away at the lead and come close to a full comeback.
4. Coby White continues to shoulder Bulls scoring
White went 4-for-7 from behind the arc and shot 55.6% from the field. He scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter.
5. Lonzo Ball makes a courtside appearance
Ball appeared briefly on the NBC Sports Chicago broadcast during the second quarter, telling commentators Stacey King and Adam Amin that his recovery is continuing smoothly and that he remains focused on making a return next season.
“Definitely doing much better,” Ball said. “The rehab has been a long process obviously, way longer than I wanted it to be. It’s definitely come down in stages and I keep checking off the boxes I’m supposed to. I’m getting better each week and that’s all I can hope for.”
Ball also offered his own advice and support for LaVine, who was shut down for the season ahead of Saturday’s game.
“You look at the big picture,” Ball said. “It’s a setback. I know the person he is. I think it’s gonna make him a better human. He’s gonna come back and do his thing for sure. I’m not worried about that. This is terrible news for everybody here but it’s better for him to get healthy now.”