Bulls fall to Knicks, 96-86, in the last home game of the season
"That's what I'm trying to do, lead this team. I'm going to continue to do that." - Coach Boylen
"A house is made of bricks and beams. A home is made of hopes and dreams."
There are many prescriptions to cure the disease of losing in the NBA. Certainly better players is most important, but so is success at home. The basic recipe for the stew that nourishes excellence in the NBA, which is generally regarded as a 50-win season, is to play .500 ball on the road and impress at home.
The Bulls are on the way while away as they close out the 2018-19 NBA season Wednesday in Philadelphia, a final road goodbye where the Bulls have won 60 percent of their games this season. But the Bulls Tuesday waved farewell to the United Center for the last time this season with yet another loss, 96-86 to the New York Knicks to establish a franchise mark for home futility with a 9-32 record. Only the Bulls and Miami Heat this season posted better records on the road than at home, and both missed the playoffs.
There is no place like home, but it is not always so sweet.
"It is something to look at this summer, study a little bit better," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "I tried not to focus on the negative of that this season, but it is something to look into. I feel for the fans, and I'm disappointed for the fans that we didn't play better at home, and we've got to fix that. What I talked to the team about is we've got to honor our home court better next year. It was the first time (Monday) we took the team picture on the main (United Center) floor because I felt it was important to do that. We need to have a winning record at home. We need to establish that. We're going to do everything we can to try to do that."
And so comes another addition to next season's to-do list as the Bulls were mostly dominated at home by the team with the league's poorest record, never leading and trailing by 20 points less than 10 minutes into the game. The Bulls trailed 39-24 after the first quarter with the usual allotment of mostly the entire regular rotation watching in street clothes, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr., Denzel Valentine, Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison.
"We've got to honor our home court better next year. We need to have a winning record at home. We need to establish that. We're going to do everything we can to try to do that." - Coach Boylen
The Bulls got within five points in the second quarter behind the reserves as Sampson and Walt Lemon Jr. each had five points. They trailed by seven at halftime and by six after three quarters. But without that deep shooting component, which has kept most games from being more competitive, the Knicks quickly got their lead back to 13 early in the fourth quarter with a pair of threes and went on to their 17th win of the season.
The Bulls got a team high 14 points from Ryan Arcidiacono. Shaquille Harrison had 13 points, Robin Lopez had 12 points and JaKarr Sampson had 11 points and a team best eight rebounds to match Cristiano Felicio. But the Knicks outrebounded the Bulls 61-50, had 10 blocked shots and made 14 three pointers with Dennis Smith Jr. leading with 25 points.
"First quarter obviously was tough on us," said Boylen. "Fighting back the whole way. The difference in the three-point line was the difference in the game. To hold them to under 100 is good. I thought we tried and I thought we tried to play together.
"I want to continue to drive the ball," said Boylen. "When we drive the ball like that good things happen. What I'm going to coach is the decisions we make. Is it a rim two or is it a pitch? Is it a nail pitch or is it a keep? That's what we've got to get better at. Hopefully we can add some shooting, get back some shooting and when we drive that ball we'll have an option to finish. People are plugging the paint on us; everyone has a foot in the paint. Hopefully we'll get healthy and have some guys who can knock it down."
It obviously will help to have LaVine, Porter and Markkanen, all potent 40 percent three-point shooters, as well as the return of Valentine, who also has that potential. And adding three-point shooting remains an offseason priority as well. The Bulls players have continually expressed a belief their talent and potential transcends their record. Next season is about proving it after one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.
"The fans have been unbelievable to me, supportive whether I see them on the street or at the games. Everything rises and falls on leadership at this level, and that's what the best coaches do. That's what I'm trying to do, lead this team. I'm going to continue to do that." - Coach Boylen
But Boylen, who took over for Fred Hoiberg in December, admits he's going to regret Game 82 being the close.
"I'm bummed out (the season will be over Wednesday)," Boylen admitted. "This has been a blast. And our guys have been great. I told them yesterday (Monday), our last contact practice, how hard they've worked and how much we've practiced and the number of after-a-game-contact practices. They've done everything I've asked them to do. That makes me want to keep going, keep getting better. But we haven't earned that. Hopefully, that hurts us and gives us a sense of purpose this summer. I know it does for me. Hopefully, we're not in this position again.
"At our (coach's) meeting, we talked about winning home games," Boylen acknowledged. "You want to win your home games and be .500 on the road. If we would win 25 home games next year, that's 16 more wins. We'd be at 38-42, which is what I think Miami is right now, trying to get in (the playoffs). Those are just words. We've got to put in the effort, the toughness, the work, the grit into that next year. All I can tell you is we're going to work at that and try to get the right guys who can execute.
"I think we've beat ourselves a lot," Boylen continued. "I think that's a theme I've used with our guys all year. We've turned the ball over. We've poorly communicated. We've missed open shots. We've gotten to the rim and not made layups. I have a hard time saying other teams are better than us. And maybe that's a foolish way to be. But we have to play more efficiently than our opponent and do the basics better for more of the 48. If we do that, I think we can beat anybody.
"The fans have been unbelievable to me, supportive whether I see them on the street or at the games," Boylen said. "Everything rises and falls on leadership at this level, and that's what the best coaches do. That's what I'm trying to do, lead this team. I'm going to continue to do that. That's what you learn. We all know the basketball, we all know basically what the other people are doing. There's not a lot of secrets. It's can you get your team to understand what you want, to compete, to play hard? Can you develop a style of play that fits the men you have? To me that's the leadership part. The great coaches are dynamic leaders, and that's what I hope to be.'
"I'm excited as hell about the future." - Coach Boylen
"It's hard to evaluate a team with injuries, but it's amazing what your mind does to you," Boylen said. "Just think about if we had Wendell Carter right now with the way he was playing, Chandler Hutchison with the way he was playing, and then you add Denzel Valentine, who was a 40 percent three-point shooter last year, and 40 percent off the bounce, to this roster? That's going to be like adding three free agents to this group of guys. Then you've had some discovery in a guy like Shaq Harrison, tough, competitive guy. RoLo has had an exceptional season for him, Lauri Markkanen had a February as good as anyone in the league. So you think about putting all those pieces together. Obviously, we have to share and we're going to have to sacrifice next year. But if we can do that I feel good about where we're at and I feel good about the momentum of where would be. I'm excited as hell about the future.'
His message to the team after Tuesday's loss?
"I said, ‘Let's get on the plane and get out of here.'"
"A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and then returns home to find it."
To be continued. They'll be back. And ready, they insist, to bring it back home.
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