Jim Boylen said he’d bring the teachings of veteran NBA coaches to the Bulls, and Boylen twice Saturday substituted all five players, a motivational ploy used by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
“If I don’t like the five guys out there, or don’t like that combination, I’m going to look at new combinations,” said Boylen. “Take them all out, let them sit there and think about it. We didn’t honor the game very well with our effort and competitiveness, so why not take them all out? I think your play is embarrassing; me subbing them is saving them, maybe. I worked for Gregg Popovich. He subbed five guys a ton of times. Nobody says a word to him about it. He felt that was best for the team. I felt that was best for the team for where we were at; that’s what my job is. Embarrassment is not giving the effort in that Bulls uniform. I put five guys in who I thought could put the effort in.”
Then there was the long stretch into the third quarter, Boylen pacing the sideline resolutely, hands in his pockets as the Celtics went on runs without Boylen calling a time out. It was a tactic frequently employed by Phil Jackson.
“They have to fend for themselves sometimes,” Boylen explained. “Sometimes we have to help them, sometimes they have to help themselves. Sometimes you have to let them go. I didn’t call some plays sometimes to see if they could figure it out. Fight your way through it. That’s what we need. You could argue that we need this; it’s painful. I don’t like it. But we need it because we really don’t have that internal toughness yet.”
Unfortunately, the result in Boylen’s third game as Bulls coach most mimicked Tim Floyd, who until Saturday coached the Bulls team that suffered the worst loss in franchise history, then 53 points in 2001 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Now it is 56 points with the Bulls 133-77 loss to the Celtics as the Bulls rallied in the last seconds from a 58-point deficit.
No, no one was smiling or laughing after this one.
“We all should be (embarrassed),” said Zach LaVine, starting off a series of rare, short, Jabari Parker-like clipped responses. “Can’t tell you (what happened); it sucked."
I was frustrated; I didn’t get to hear him (when Boylen removed the starters less than five minutes into the game trailing 13-0)."
“No you don’t (see five-player substitutions)."
“It is what it is; we’ve got to do what he says.”
LaVine loosened up a bit after a few more inquiries, though there is some toughness to LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, the two players who did speak with reporters.
“They played harder than us,” said Markkanen, who was direct, though not abrupt as he’s continued to warm to American media. “That’s the main point, and obviously it’s easy to say that we didn’t make shots because it was 17-0, but we just didn’t play hard enough. You deserve (the benching) if you don’t play hard, so I can’t blame him. That’s a lesson that we have to learn that you can’t take for granted that you’re starting a game.
“It is kind of uncommon and I haven’t seen it before,” Markkanen acknowledged about the multiple five-player substitutions. “But first time for everything. And, like I said, we deserved it tonight. He said it’s unacceptable that this happened, especially at home. So it’s a lesson that we have to learn. I’m sure everybody’s tired, but that’s the thing about this league. I’m not even talking about just our team. I’m sure they’re tired, too. And that’s why you can’t use it as an excuse. We feel fine, but today we just weren’t ready to play.”
There wasn’t much to recount from a game the Bulls trailed by double digits the last 45 minutes, by 18 points after the first quarter, then 64-43 at halftime and 93-60 after three quarters. The United Center audience offered a mocking cheer when the Bulls finally scored with 5:42 left in the first quarter and then hearty boos at the end of the game. Which couldn’t even be disguised as calls for beer man Lou since sales had been cut off much earlier.
Shaquille Harrison had a career high with 20 points and Cameron Payne had 10. LaVine was the only starter scoring in double figures with 11 points, and actually was playing reasonably well with four of six shooting, a team most free throw attempts in 19 minutes and a pair of assists.
At 6-21, the Bulls now are last in the East ahead of only the Phoenix Suns overall. Boston is 15-10. It was the biggest win in Celtics history and tied for the largest margin home regular season loss in NBA history.
“We put a lot of hard work into this,” expanded LaVine. “I get up and compete every day. Regardless of whatever the score is, I want to go out there and compete. Obviously we didn’t get a chance to do that and you saw what happened.
“I think emotions are high after a game like this,” LaVine offered, choosing his words carefully. “We’ll see what happens tomorrow (at practice). We’re all a team. I guess he was saying the whole unit wasn’t doing good. I’m part of that starting group.
“Sitting there watching, score going up and up, I know we are competing, but it sucks. You know you can help,” said LaVine. “Sometimes you don’t feel you did anything wrong. We got blitzed to come out; obviously, he didn’t like that. That happens in the NBA sometimes. We responded in the second quarter. I don’t know. We’ve got another game coming up and we have to get it right.”
The Bulls play in the United Center Monday against the Sacramento Kings before leaving for Mexico City to play the Magic and then road games in San Antonio and Oklahoma City. There’s a good chance both Bobby Portis and Kris Dunn return from injury Monday, though likely on reduced schedules.
Though the style and sturdiness of play could be subsidiary to the reaction of the players to the dual sweeping substitutions. But the scenario also seems to be following a pattern of a military boot camp-like handbook of both toughening up the recruits and challenging them repeatedly through duress and duty to work as a unit.
Boylen in just a week on the job since replacing Fred Hoiberg repeatedly has stressed group effort and results over individual accomplishment. When the Bulls had their best win of the season Friday over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Boylen emphasized the winning play rather than winning shot, the way Markkanen looked for a teammate to make a shot rather than immediately taking one himself.
Boylen also has had the players running practice sprints, an unusual tactic this far into the season, though it is a new coach and scheme.
“I thought we were a little bit stuck in between systems to be honest with you, the old system and what we’re trying to put in now,” Boylen said after the game. “I think that’s understandable. It’s not acceptable, but I think it’s understandable.”
Boylen also scheduled a practice for Sunday, which is not common the day after a back to back. Though it is also not rare with a game Monday. Boylen did point out with the five-player substitution three minutes into the third quarter and not playing them again — even as the Bulls were outscored just 5-3 in the third when he made the mass-substitution, though Boylen said he did not like what he was seeing — they should be well rested.
“Why have them play in a game that is going to be very difficult for them to win when the benefit to me is going to be practice tomorrow and getting better?” asked Boylen. “Lose tonight (trying to recover from a 30-point deficit) and then we can’t practice tomorrow; we double lose.”
Actually, it didn’t seem hopeless after that shockingly poor start, though the Bulls did shoot extraordinarily well to open the Friday game. That wasn’t going to continue. Jabari Parker and Cameron Payne led the Bulls on a 10-6 run after the 17-0 start. And then in the second quarter, it seemed the Bulls were making it a game with the starters pulling within 48-33 midway through the quarter after a LaVine driving dunk for a three-point play. Justin Holiday made another three on a nifty Ryan Arcidiacono pass. But when the Bulls closed the quarter with three consecutive turnovers and then Boston opened the third with five straight points, Boylen went back into his laboratory.
Will he find a cure or force an explosion?
“Disappointing effort, disappointing outcome after what I thought was a really hard fought two games at Indiana and at home last night,” said Boylen. “I’m not discouraged, but I’m disappointed. I pulled that first group out of there and told them that’s not what we’re going to have as the standard of our program. Wasn’t going to stand for it. I pulled them together and said all those people paid money to see you guys play and you’re not giving them the effort you’ve got to give them. “We need some leadership to step up,” said Boylen. “It’s a new team, it’s a new group, it’s a new way.”