It felt like the end of Rocky 2, the charming champ and the plain pug taking their shots and going down simultaneously, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Bulls coach Jim Boylen in an unprecedented dual ejection with 1:14 left Friday in the third quarter of the Clippers 128-121 victory over the Bulls.
The dashing veteran coach may have recorded another win for his surprising 40-30 team. But the Bulls brawny rookie coach perhaps won some hearts and minds in the locker room with his refusal to back down from what he apparently believed was dirty play.
It may never be a rivalry, but it could be a heck of a feud worthy of a round 2 sometime.
Who says a team out of the playoffs in the regular season cannot still have fun?
"What Jim did, I personally respect that a lot," said Zach LaVine, who led the Bulls with 31 points with seven rebounds and seven assists in his return after missing two games with knee concerns. "He really cares about us and he's going to fight for us; that shows his true character the way he feels about us."
The Bulls got 22 points, eight rebounds and three blocks from rockin' Robin Lopez, 15 points from Otto Porter Jr. and 14 points from Kris Dunn and Wayne Selden Jr. Lauri Markkanen continued to drag through March with 10 points including missing three of five free throws as the Bulls dropped to 19-51.
The game was one of those Dickensian tales of two halves with the Bulls near dominant in the first half, 60 percent first quarter shooting for a 34-29 lead and a 63-57 halftime lead with LaVine and Lopez scoring 16 each and Dunn driving hard for 11 points. The Bulls were shooting 56.8 percent at halftime. And still 52.5 percent for the game and 11 of 21 threes.
Then after halftime the Clippers applied the pressure of a serious playoff team despite their apparent rebuilding arc after moving out All-Stars like Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. They've replaced them with an active, physical group of journeymen type players led by Chicagoan Patrick Beverley and center Montrezl Harrell, the latter who nearly knocked rugged Ryan Arcidiacono into Monday, which started the brouhaha.
Danilo Gallinari had 27 points working over Markkanen, Harrell added 26 and super sub Lou Williams had 21. But it was the force the Clippers applied to start the second half that initially knocked the Bulls off balance, first figuratively and then too literally once again.
"I just thought we got a little sloppy, a little careless," said Boylen. "I guess we can credit them for that. We have to do a better job in the third quarter. Our guys know it. We played 24, 26 minutes of real good basketball tonight and we have to play 48."
After LaVine opened the quarter getting to the free throw line, where he would have 13 attempts, Dunn couldn't finish strong enough on an offensive rebound, LaVine committed a turnover out of a double team trap and Markkanen rushed into losing the ball. After Porter made a driving bank shot, there was a 24-second violation, a Markkanen travel and quick hook, Selden getting a shot blocked and then LaVine. While the Clippers were on a 19-4 run to start the quarter and then into a timeout with 3:18 left as Beverley ended a 10-0 run by rebounding two misses himself that led to a three pointer.
It was 86-71 Clippers.
"I feel we didn't come out with that same grit," LaVine admitted. "We were up six going to the third quarter and then we were fighting uphill from there. They are a veteran team and they know what they are doing, but where we want to go we need to do better at that. That third quarter has been our (undoing) all year. They were going to (apply more pressure). The main thing we had to do was get more stops; we couldn't. They were going on runs, we couldn't get out in transition."
Then as the Bulls tried to hang in there and Shaquille Harrison was racing to pick up Beverley, Harrell laid him out with one of those mid court screens with a bit extra shoulder turn. Like the one that had taken out Arciduiacono late in the first quarter and kept him out the rest of the game.
"I picked up Lou full court and unfortunately I got screened pretty good and that was that," shrugged Arcidiacono, the guy who usually jumps up after hits. "Took me a little bit to get up. I felt fine the rest of the half. Then came back in the locker room and wasn't feeling too well. I felt better within like 20, 30 minutes being in the locker room. I think it was just like a precaution thing our medical staff wanted me to sit out the rest of the game.
Got hit in the jaw area. I think they are the type of team if you pick them up full court, they are going to get a good screen on you so you don't do it again.That's just the way they play. I'm all good now."
Boylen the football guy with the basketball whistle wasn't. He'd seen enough when Harrell did it again to Harrison and was protesting to the officials why a foul was called. C'mon, Harrell was complaining!
So Boylen turned toward the stylish Rivers and apparently indicated something to effect that people get jailed for less than that.
"I spoke with the officials before the half. I said you have to look at that moving screen (first quarter injury to Arcidiacono)," Boylen explained. "I think it was an offensive foul. They came back and told me it was an offensive foul and they missed it, which I appreciate, which is good officiating. I let it go. They set another moving screen at half court that they called an offensive foul and I've already got a guy sitting in the locker room from the bang he took in the first half, can't play the second half. Now they go after my other point guard with a moving screen and I don't appreciate it. I let them know I don't appreciate that. I let everybody know. I don't know how Doc got involved. He didn't think it was a moving foul. I got no issue with Doc. He's fighting for his team; I am fighting for my team. I'm worried about my group and protecting my group.
"I'm not going to judge (intent)," Boylen added carefully. "I got a guy sitting in the locker room who is one of the toughest guys I've ever coach, ever, 31 years of doing this, sitting in the locker room can't play. Then I have another guy that's one of my toughest guys I've ever coached in Shaq and gets banged around and rubbing his shoulder and I didn't like it. I like physical basketball. Guys play hard. Didn't like it."
Boylen turned away from the officials and toward the Clippers bench. Rivers responded in kind. The officials warned both coaches. They weren't done.
"I have no idea why I was ejected, I really don't," Rivers said afterward, laughing.
Boylen wasn't as jocular in his post game comments.
"I was talking to the ref. I said basically that was a clean pick," said Rivers. "All of a sudden I hear Boylen yelling at me saying we were dirty or whatever because I guess in the first half we set another legal pick and one of their guys got hurt. I wanted to say maybe turn around and yell at your guys and tell them to call out picks."
Now thems fightin' words.
"Don't yell at me," Rivers continued. "I didn't say it that nicely. Then the ref threw us both out. I never talk to the other coach unless the coach talks to me. I don't think I should have been thrown out for that. I didn't instigate anything. It was clear who started it. I don't think one coach should ever make comments to another coach about his team, but Jimmy did. He chose to do that; that's up to him. I don't think I've ever seen (simultaneous ejections)."
And you thought maybe the Bulls were just playing it out.
Lead official Jason Phillips in a post game statement to a pool reporter said each coach received two technical fouls and thus ejection: "The first (technical) was for the arguing. We told (the coaches) that was enough. Then they continued."
LaVine again looked terrific and said he intends to play out the season unless something serious occurs with his health.
"We are not trying to slow down," said LaVine. "We have a good vibe in the locker room; our heads are high. I think we are playing better than our record shows, especially after All-Star break; we're building for something in the future. We have to learn to win. I think that's the hardest thing in the NBA. We might not have won today, but that's a learning point, too, knowing we have to come out better in the third quarter.
"I feel pretty good; I'm OK," said LaVine. "I'm going to keep monitoring it. Just continue to go out and play with the guys. If I am not hurt I am not going to sit out. I'm a competitor, I feel I am having a really good season and I want to continue to play."
Markkanen was having a really good season until lately, though he insists nothing is wrong. Not even playing those four overtimes.
"It's frustrating because I know I can shoot free throws and know I can shoot the ball, so it's frustrating to see it come out. But all I know is to work and stay confident and that's what I am going to do," said Markkanen. "I tried to focus on getting the board and pushing it. I am still trying to make the right basketball play and play hard on both ends. I had a couple of stretches last year I wasn't playing that well; this is part of it. I know it's going to be tough, but I am going to work through it."
Assistant Pete Myers finished up the game as Boylen with a Hollywood flourish ran onto the court to slap fives and fist bumps with his players after the ejection despite lead official Phillips yelling for him to get out. Boylen then signaled to fans wearing Bulls across their chests as he hustled toward the locker room.
"I told them to play hard, stay together and keep fighting," said Boylen.
The Clippers led 102-84 after three quarters. The Bulls did get within 12 with 8:27 left and had several chances to get the deficit into single digits. But Dunn and Markkanen had misses and Harrell then bulled inside for a pair of dunks and Gallinari made a clinching three with four minutes left.
"I really like this group of guys," said Boylen. "They practiced hard this week; they are giving it everything they have. They are growing, developing. I have a great group in the locker room, a great group, great Bulls; they are good Bulls, man. But I don't think I ever have been ejected from a game. I can't remember (if I was coaching in college at Utah). I don't think so. Obviously, they didn't want us there anymore. So they threw us out."
Yo Adrian, you like those underdogs?