Bulls honor Kobe Bryant's legacy by competing in win over Spurs

Bulls honor Kobe Bryant's legacy by competing in win over Spurs

And then there was a basketball game to be played.

After all the words, both public and private, and the video tribute, and the 24 seconds of silence and the 24- and 8-second violations to honor Kobe Bryant, the Bulls and Spurs played a game.

It wasn’t easy, even if it marked the Spurs’ second since Bryant’s tragic death on Sunday in a helicopter crash.

“I think we’re all kind of raw,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. “I think the whole league is hurting.”

The Bulls prevailed 110-109 carrying with them the pregame message that Boylen sent, a conclusion many players had already reached on their own.

“We’ve lost one of the greatest competitors ever, in any sport. To honor him, I thought what we needed to do was compete and play as hard as we could,” Boylen said. “I thought our guys did that.”

Lose yourself in the game. That’s how Kris Dunn put it.

And Dunn did so by staging a memorable battle against DeMar DeRozan down the stretch. DeRozan missed the second of two free throws on a borderline foul call on Dunn with 0.2 seconds left; then also missed a putback attempt at the buzzer that was waved off, but could have been overturned by replay review if it came to it.

DeRozan finished with 36 points, although Dunn foiled him twice late and also posted his league-leading 30th game with multiple steals. He joined Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen as the only players in franchise history to record 100 steals in a season’s first 50 games.

“We were kind of in a fog,” Dunn said. “As the game went on, your competitive nature took over.”

LaVine showed perseverance that Bryant might’ve admired. After starting 1-for-8 and scoring just four first-half points, LaVine tallied 14 of his 23 points in the final period. That’s 15 straight 20-point games for LaVine, whose two free throws with 2.1 seconds left marked the winning points.

“I got off to a slow start. I didn’t get the whistle a couple times. And I made some boneheaded plays on layups trying to switch hand, missed some easy ones,” LaVine said. “Just had to settle in. I’m always confident. All I needed to see was one go in.

“I don’t think [Bryant] would like anybody not to go out there and compete. He was the ultimate competitor.”

And then there was Boylen, who improved to 2-0 against his former boss and exchanged a postgame hug with Gregg Popovich. Boylen’s decision to intentionally foul Jakob Poeltl twice in 29 seconds flipped the game. Poeltl, a 50.9 percent free-throw shooter, missed three of four.

“When you watch DeRozan make two defended great twos and he looked like he was in rhythm, we’re not going to pull off and double him because then we’re giving up a 3. If you look at points per possession on 50 percent FT shooter, you’re going to take the 50 percent FT shooter,” Boylen said. “That was really a math decision.”

Bryant consistently drew raves for his basketball intelligence. He might’ve appreciated the math equation.

As for one more numbers game, don’t look now. But the Bulls are within two games of the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed.

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Jim Boylen remains resolute in development goals for Bulls season

USA Today

Jim Boylen remains resolute in development goals for Bulls season

The Bulls entered Tuesday night's matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder 20-38 and 1-8 in their last nine games. But head coach Jim Boylen, for his part, remained resolute — even optimistic — in comments to assorted media before the game.

“It is a win-loss league, but that’s not the only thing that gets evaluated,” said Boylen, who owns just a 37-79 record at the helm of the Bulls. “Are we establishing a style of play? I think we have. Have we cleaned up our defense that needed to be cleaned up? I think we have. Have we established a shot profile that’s top five in the league? I think we’re three right now in the shots we get compared to other teams. So those are all positive things.

“And then you can look at the what-ifs, which I don’t do very often. With our shot profile, what would Otto Porter do in that shot profile? He’d be pretty successful, and Lauri Markkanen, and right on down the line. I’m not worried about my personal record or my win-loss record. I’ve been asked to establish a style of play, to have a disciplined approach and develop a young group of guys.”

Boylen then went on to cite the progress of Coby White, Daniel Gafford and Cristiano Felicio as positives over the course of the season. And that’s fair. Still, his verbiage is a noticeable shift from before the season, when the playoffs were a stated goal.

“It is hard for me. But that’s not my calling. That’s not what they ask me to do,” Boylen said when asked if stacking losses has been hard for him as a competitor. “Nobody in this organization said to me, ‘You got to win this many games.’ Nobody said to me, ‘Hey, we’re going to talk about wins and losses all year.’ Not one time have they said that to me.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t want to win. It doesn’t mean we’re not trying to win, but nobody said that to me. I have to honor the organization with trying to do this thing the right way. If we do that and if we can get healthy, I feel good about it.”

What was and will be said behind closed doors can be speculated upon. What can’t be argued: The Bulls are 5.5 games out of the eighth seed, have beaten one above-.500 team this year and a playoff gasp is unlikely. And though Boylen alluded to how good Markkanen and Porter might look in the context of the team’s current shot profile, we saw Markkanen’s fit in practice for 46 games. With the caveat that he was battling nagging injuries all season, the results for the third-year forward were regression across the board. The team was 3-6 when Otto Porter Jr. fractured his foot on Nov. 6.

All of the above and more have culminated in reports of potential organizational change in the offseason. The exact nature of that change has yet to be determined, as does Boylen’s future with the team if the front office, coaching staff or player personnel is overhauled. 

But Boylen said his win-loss record being used against him in that evaluation would be a surprise.

“Yes, it would,” he said. “I don’t foresee that happening.”

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Coby White, Chris Paul share bond that's bigger than basketball

Coby White, Chris Paul share bond that's bigger than basketball

Coby White has scored a season-high 33 points in back-to-back games, but he's staying level-headed as hype and hysteria swirls around him.

“You’re going to have highs and lows over the season. I try to be the same throughout. That’s kind of how I live my life,” White said Tuesday. “It’s great and all but I just try to stay positive. A lot of people are saying congrats and whatnot. But I just have to keep getting better.”

This same approach served White well the last time he faced his mentor, Chris Paul. The Bulls blew leads of 26 points in the first half and 10 points in the fourth quarter to lose 109-106 at Oklahoma City in December.

Afterward, a posed picture of White and Paul smiling on the court after the gut-wrenching defeat landed on social media. Some critics pounced, saying that was neither the time nor place for fraternization.

Never mind that White played for Paul’s AAU team and received mental and emotional support from the All-Star guard as White’s father lost his battle with cancer.

“He means a lot to me and my family, especially me. He’s been there for me for a long time now,” White said. “I played for his AAU organization. He’s like a big brother, a mentor for me, someone I always looked up to and he’s always been by my side no matter what.

“Whenever I needed something, I knew I could call on him, and he had my back through anything. He’s always supported me through everything. I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for me.”

There are basketball benefits, as well. White studies Paul’s game, noting that he outscored the Bulls by himself 19-16 in that fateful fourth quarter in Oklahoma City.

“I love that he’s super smart. He’s a technician with the basketball. He can do it all — finish, get to the lane, shoot the 3. He’s such a leader, vocally and by example. He’s willing to go that extra mile for anything,” White said. “His leadership is what stood out to me. Even in AAU, him being the coach, you still see that Alpha Dog mentality with him on the sideline.”

White said the two talk occasionally during the season and certainly will Tuesday, no matter the outcome.

“Coming into the league, I wanted to be good really quickly. I know it doesn’t work like that,” White said. “So he just told me to be patient, keep grinding and everything will take care of itself.”

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