The reviews Tuesday were positive in Jim Boylen’s stage debut as Bulls head coach.
A Game Changer!
“I feel like our intensity was a lot higher than usual. I feel like especially on the defensive end even though we did make mistakes and are going to make mistakes, we did at a very high level. On the offensive end we kept moving. We had a couple of stagnant plays, but not as many as we used to. We always got good shots; we just didn’t knock them down.”
— Wendell Carter Jr.
Delectable and Exquisite!
“He’s a fighter and that’s what we respect about him. We know how much he cares. He brings an intensity to the game and he fights for you. He’s going to be straight up with you. He’s been like that as an assistant coach for us the last two years.”
— Zach LaVine
“It feels different, but at the same time it does feel good how we played today. When we were out on the floor we stayed together, we played well together. I think we got downhill more from multiple people. Usually, I’m coming off shooting, but I thought about getting downhill more and seeing what was there. We had more doing it tonight. I think defensively we did a very good job playing with one another, moving, flying around. I think we are going in the right direction. I think Jim did a good job tonight. He was loud. There were times I was on the far end I could hear him yelling. We just have to find a way to pull the game out for him.”
— Justin Holiday
Just not quite a standing ovation at the end as the Bulls, in a see-saw, stuck-in-the-mud, tug of war with the Indiana Pacers, that saw 17 lead changes and 13 ties, lost 96-90 in Boylen’s coaching debut after replacing Fred Hoiberg.
The Bulls trailed by two points after the first quarter, led by two at halftime and then trailed by three after three quarters. They were within 3, at 88-85, on a Cameron Payne three pointer with 1:38 left. There’s creativity for you, Cameron Payne down the stretch. But misses by LaVine and Lauri Markkanen and some Pacers free throws enabled Indiana to race away to the finish line.
Markkanen led the Bulls with 21 points and 10 rebounds, but he shot eight of 24 and five of 13 on threes. With six Bulls scoring in double figures in a balanced, if slower, offense, Holiday had 15 points and LaVine had 13 points and nine assists. Carter had 12 points and 13 rebounds. Off the bench, Jabari Parker had 12 points and Payne 10.
Indiana played without injured Victor Oladipo. The Bulls remained without Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis, both of whom practiced with the Windy City Bulls on Tuesday.
The Bulls checked some boxes with the rebounding about even, 45-44 for Indiana, and just six Pacers offensive rebounds. The Bulls had a credible 26 assists and attempted 31 threes, making 11. The Pacers were just six of 22 on threes against the scrambling Bulls defense. But the Bulls attempted just five free throws, none in the second half, and committed 19 turnovers.
The Bulls, Boylen said by design, played more slowly and deeper into the shot clock on offense, thus reducing the number of Indiana possessions with an added emphasis on defensive play. After all, Boylen had been the defensive assistant for the Bulls under Hoiberg. But Boylen also said his preference, which he said he modeled after Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, is to play a slower, more physical game, limiting possessions, particularly on the road.
Though Boylen also said the Bulls weren’t quite ready for that as he questioned the team’s toughness and conditioning to play that style for now. Boylen promised that would change.
“I told the team that I’m disappointed that we didn’t win, but I’m not discouraged,” Boylen said to conclude a hectic day with his wife and daughters in attendance for his personal long awaited NBA head coaching debut. “I thought we showed some grit at moments. I thought we drove the ball. We turned it over too much. We lost the boards by one, which is something that we’ve been working on. We forced 18 turnovers, but we had 19. We’re are going to have to get better. We have to respond better when we have in-game failure individually.
“I did (think we ran out of gas),” Boylen acknowledged. “I talked to my coaches after the game. I talked to John (Paxson) and Gar (Forman, Bulls executives) and I’m really disappointed in the conditioning. The conditioning is going to change. To be really honest, we’ve got to get tougher. When you get tougher you get those (foul) calls. The message is physicality. The message is that you have to make a play at the end. Whatever that play is, a big rebound, a stop, a loose ball. We didn’t do that. That’s the message.
“My mentality (is a) road dog mentality, run when we can, but we are going to set up and make people guard us through the clock,” said Boylen. “That’s a coach Pop thing and I believe in it. You have to play a little smarter on the road, maybe a little slower. Stay in the game, make your run. I thought we did that. What you hope is you can hold the home team to 96 (and) you can score 98; we didn’t do that.”
So the Bulls lost their seventh consecutive game and 11th in the last 12 to drop to 5-20, though with a new philosophy, new messages, new leadership and just a bit more experimentation until the team is whole again, perhaps as early as this weekend.
“I really like this team,” Boylen said to start off his post game comments with a statement. “I like these guys. I thought we competed. I thought we battled. That’s a big, physical team. I’m really proud of this group. We have a lot of mistakes to clean up, we have a lot of things I think we have to get better at. It was awesome. I have a good group. I told the guys before the game I wish I could play with them; that’s how you feel. You wish you can play with them. To be part of that.”
At times it seemed Boylen was in a hyperkinetic, animated and often frenetic sideline ballet that more resembled a grizzly bear doing a samba. Boylen dropped into defensive stances as a model for his players, frantically waved both arms over his head, sprinted toward the mid court line and back, rarely sat, stood erect with arms crossed and greeted players with pats on the back and verbal darts.
“We’re pretty used to him,” said LaVine. “He’s not going to change.”
Though there were, understandably, struggles, with a new coach, Markkanen working back in and playing 32 minutes, a new rotation yet again with Parker off the bench, Payne’s playing time increased and the backup centers unused.
Boylen used Markkanen at center at times since Indiana, 14-10, plays the thinner Myles Turner in the middle. Markkanen was a bit shot happy with 24 in 32 minutes, though he wasn’t apologetic. His stroke looked pure but erratic. He said he got hit in the quad and that slowed him, though he said he didn’t anticipate a problem.
“I don’t think I had too many bad shots,” Markkanen said. “They were quite open and they all felt good. Just get my timing back; had so many offensive rebounds I had my hand on the ball and I just couldn’t grab it. All that little stuff will get better if I keep playing.”
Carter seemed to revel in the increased emphasis on defensive play, coming from the weak side to block a Bojan Bogdanovic shot and then staring down at the fallen Pacers player.
“Oh yeah, of course (it was intentional to stare at him),” said Carter. “It’s playing the sport. Little plays like that can win you the game. I’m just competitive and whenever I make a great play it’s just in the moment.”
Carter also took a brutal fall on his tailbone, but said it wasn’t a problem as he’s done it frequently.
LaVine seemed the most unsettled with the changes. He had been relied upon as the team’s primary offensive option, but appeared to be uncertain whether to drive or shoot. He again led in assists, getting a third of the team’s total, mostly in two-man games with Markkanen and Parker. Using the offensive players kept the trap off LaVine. Boylen suggested LaVine needed to be more efficient with shots, though LaVine was six of 10 through three quarters. He was zero for five in the fourth.
“There was a lot thrown at us today,” LaVine acknowledged. “New system, new coach, new players coming back, new rotation. It’s going to take a second to digest it and were going to have to get into that rhythm. But for us going out there and competing, I think we definitely did that.
“I take some tough shots and make some tough shots,” said LaVine. “Today I took the game slow. Through three quarters, I think I shot 10 times and I was pretty efficient. I was trying to get to the line. I think this was the first game I didn’t get to the line. I was driving, trying to get some calls, didn’t get them. That’s the way the game goes. I think I made the right plays. I am going to continue to do that. It’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve. I’ll figure it out.
“I’m all for winning,” LaVine added. “Whatever I have to do. In the beginning, I knew I had to score the ball to give us a fighting chance. Now with some of the guys coming back it’s not like I’m going to change my aggressiveness to score the ball. I’ll still put up numbers, I’m going to do what I have to do to win.”
The Bulls scored to open the fourth quarter to get within a point, and Payne made a pair of driving scores to keep them close. He was particularly aggressive and led the team in fourth quarter scoring, even replacing Ryan Arcidiacono in the last minute after an Arcidiacono turnover. Boylen also subbed out Parker late after allowing an offensive rebound, though the Bulls couldn’t make a crucial play on either end. The Pacers’ 9-3 run in the last two minutes clinched the win for them.
“We don’t have a dedicated fourth quarter lineup yet,” Boylen admitted. “We’re going to play the guys who are playing well and try to get the right combination out there if we can. I thought our guys were bright eyed. I thought they were attentive. I thought they were playing for each other. Those are the things I am focusing on.”
The show must go on.