Whistle stops plague Yi
The Milwaukee Bucks’ 7-foot rookie power forward struggled with foul trouble while guarding the Magic’s frontcourt tandem and finished with nine points in 25 minutes in his much-anticipated National Basketball Association debut.
Yi finally fouled out on a charging call with 2 minutes 54 seconds left in Orlando’s convincing 102-83 victory in the regular-season opener for both teams.
Yi admitted the intensity and physical nature of the game picked up dramatically on opening night.
“My fouls are still too much,” he said, “and I picked up two fouls (guarding) Howard. If I can control the fouls, I can play much better.”
The Chinese national team star was given the starting assignment by Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak, something even Houston Rockets center Yao Ming did not do in his initial NBA game in 2002.
And Krystkowiak was not too discouraged by his big man’s performance.
“I’ll look at it again,” Krystkowiak said. “I thought he did pretty well compared to what took place today and some of the (media) circus that’s going on. I think he’s got an awful lot on his mind, opening-day jitters and the whole thing.
“I think he’s going to be fine at the end of the day.”
Yi sank the first shot he attempted in a real NBA contest, knocking in a 22-foot jumper to give the Bucks a 6-4 lead. That came moments after Yi had made a clean block at the rim of a shot by Turkoglu.
Yi played 10 minutes in the first quarter and had two points and one foul in that span.
But he picked up his second and third fouls in less than 3 minutes in the second quarter, and Michael Ruffin replaced him after Yi drew the third one with 2:57 to go in the half.
The savvy Turkoglu had Yi chasing beyond the three-point line, and the Magic forward eventually drew Yi’s fourth foul with a pump fake on a drive to the basket with 7:57 left in the third quarter.
Yi again went to the bench, and Turkoglu’s two free throws started a 28-6 Magic run that gave the home team a commanding 83-62 margin entering the final quarter.
“Turkoglu presents a matchup problem for not just our team but for a lot of guys,” Krystkowiak said. “He’s an offensive-minded player; he’s crafty. He’s been around the block a time or two.”
Yi did hit 4 of 5 shots from the field and was 1 for 4 at the foul line, while adding three rebounds and two blocked shots. He also committed three turnovers.
“I had some open shots,” Yi said of hitting from the perimeter. “I can do some more drives and get closer to the basket.”
Bucks veteran Michael Redd said he took Yi aside after the game and told the young player to keep a positive outlook, that it was just the first of 82 games in the long regular season.
“He’s 20 years old, and he’s a rookie,” Redd said. “You’re excited about his future. Obviously, it’s a learning experience for him. He has to get a feel; it’s a different intensity than the pre-season.
“I told him tonight to just be encouraged by it. We kind of threw him to the wolves tonight, man. He’ll bounce back. Sometimes you have to learn by fire. He’s going to be terrific.”
When the Bucks lineup was introduced before the game, Yi and Redd exchanged a short bow together.
“We’ve got a little handshake, and it’s a tribute to where he’s from,” Redd said. “We’ve connected.”
Yi did not shy away from contact in his debut and set his share of screens to free up Bucks shooters.
“He’s not going to back down,” Redd said. “He’s resilient, and he’s going to take some bumps and bruises. We’ve had some training camp incidents where he’s had his nose cracked, but he’s come back and played the very next play.
“That’s my rookie, and I’m going to take care of him. We’ve all got his back. By midseason you’ll see him getting his feet wet and his experience going up higher and higher.”