Bulls at EuroBasket: How Dragić, Simonović played in tourney openers

·3 min read

Bulls at EuroBasket: Dragić, Simonović shine in openers originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Chicago Bulls fans yearning to see their team back in action, this is a PSA:

EuroBasket is here, and it is fun.

And the proceedings, which mark the first time the tournament has been held since 2017, feature plenty of Bulls connections — chiefly, veteran point guard Goran Dragić, who signed with the team this offseason, playing for Slovenia and 2020 second-round draft choice Marko Simonović suiting up for Montenegro.

Thursday marked the first day of the Group Phase of the tournament. After a five-game round robin, the top four teams from each Group (A, B, C, D) will advance to the Round of 16, which begins on Sept. 10.

Here is how Simonović and Dragić fared in their opening games:

Marko Simonović, Montenegro

Montenegro (Group A) drew Turkey in their first game — a tough matchup against a team many consider a sleeper and which employs multiple NBA players, including Cedi Osman, Alperen Şengün, Furkan Korkmaz and former journeyman Shane Larkin.

Turkey closed a back-and-forth first half with a 12-0 run to enter the break ahead 41-31. But the Montenegrins fought back to lead 66-61 with just over four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

However, Turkey got the last laugh with an 11-2 run to close regulation, capped by a go-ahead floater by Korkmaz with 23 seconds remaining to pull ahead 69-68, then a 3-point heave as time expired. (Yes, even overseas, the 76ers forward is tormenting the Bulls.)

Simonović was a key contributor, though. He led Montenegro in scoring at halftime, and finished with 13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals, draining two of three 3-point attempts. But the Bulls’ second-year big man was also whistled for a decisive offensive foul after catching a defender with his elbow while attempting to put back a missed jumper with 4.5 seconds to play. Simonović missed the attempt, which could have put Montenegro ahead 70-69.

Montenegro next plays Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CT against Belgium. By the looks of it, Simonović should continue to have a featured role.

Goran Dragić, Slovenia

Slovenia (Group B) also found itself in a nail-biter, facing Lithuania in a matchup between teams FIBA recently ranked second and fourth-best in the tournament, respectively. It makes all the sense in the world, with Slovenia’s side led by Luka Dončić and Dragić, and Lithuania headlined by Domantas Sabonis and Jonas Valančiūnas.

The contest lived up to the billing, with blows traded throughout and Lithuania eventually pulling ahead 78-73 with just over six minutes to play. But Slovenia finished the game on a demoralizing 19-7 run led by Dončić, who despite shooting poorly finished with 10 assists, controlled the game offensively and made multiple key defensive plays down the stretch.

Dragić, for his part, looked downright spry back on the stage he won tournament MVP in 2017 (the last time EuroBasket was held). Not only did he bury three of four 3-point attempts en route to 19 points — including a seismic triple to put Slovenia ahead 85-81 with 2:37 to play — he also defended physically and turned two steals into immediate fastbreak buckets.

Slovenia next plays Saturday at 1:30 p.m. CT against Hungary. As one of the favorites in the tournament, they are well worth watching and should be around for a while. Dragić will be one of the heads of their attack for as long as they are.

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