Following the Bulls’ second heartbreaking loss in as many nights, Jim Boylen had the floor.
“I coach by faith. I coach and teach every day on where I think we’re going to be. When that’s going to happen, when that’s going to break through, I’m not sure. But I’m going to keep coaching that way. We’ll watch from this, learn from it and grow,” a passionate Boylen said. “We’re playing good, hard basketball. We have to win two or three more possessions — one more defensive rebound, one more loose ball, one more open 3. That’s the difference in this. And I’m not going to let any negativity deter us from that mission. That’s what we’re going to do.”
And with that, the Bulls’ coach exited his postgame news conference, an atypical move for one of the more accessible coaches in the league.
Nobody could fault Boylen. At this point, people are tired of words anyway. And judging from the announced attendance of 14,775, the smallest since Dec. 16, 2004, people are tired of the Bulls’ losing ways, too.
Most any coach in the NBA brings his starters back with 6 to 8 minutes to go, as Boylen did with the Bulls leading by eight. Most any coach in the NBA goes to his most talented player, as Boylen did in calling Zach LaVine’s number, with the game on the line.
In the broken record department, the starters, with Denzel Valentine in for an ineffective Kris Dunn, coughed up another fourth-quarter lead. LaVine, who went scoreless in the second half after scoring 20 points in the first, missed over a double-team near the buzzer.
Making matters worse? LaVine afterward said he should’ve passed to a wide-open Daniel Gafford, in for the fouled-out Wendell Carter Jr.
“I saw Marc Gasol there. I tried to get him in the air and draw a foul. I’ve looked at now. I just wish I would’ve took an extra dribble to see the double-team on me,” LaVine said. “I could’ve hit Daniel. I could’ve kicked it back out. I thought I was making the right play by trying to get in the air and get to the free throw line. It just didn’t happen.”
How are these for some disturbing numbers? Valentine, who wasn’t even in the rotation until recently, took as many fourth-quarter shots as the four starters who played. The bench outscored the starters 18-3 in the final period.
For contrast, the Raptors’ starters scored 18 of their 22 fourth-quarter points.
The Bulls are going to keep recording moral victories, not real ones, until they learn how to close games.
“The starters’ job is to come back in, get re-engaged in the game and close it out. That’s what they did. They brought their guys in and they closed the game out,” Boylen said, alluding to the Raptors. “We have to learn to do that. We’re close. We’re right there. That’s the next step.”
To LaVine’s credit, he’s playing through a shoulder that Boylen called “banged up,” even though it hasn’t landed him officially on the injury report. He also briefly got the wind knocked out of him when OG Anunoby blocked his shot from behind and elbowed him in the back.
“We’re fine. Obviously, you’re upset in the moment. But it’s not like we’re not playing with these teams and competing with them all the way down to the fourth quarter,” LaVine said. “It shouldn’t have even been a one-point possession but that’s what we were left at and we just didn’t make the play.
“It feels like a little bit of a broken record. This is our job. We have to compete every time on the floor.”
The Bulls are on a three-game losing streak by a combined eight points. LaVine has missed game-winning attempts twice in the last three games. They still have yet to beat a team with a winning record.
“I can’t speak for everybody or the fans. I get a lot of positive feedback about our group,” Boylen said. “I think people understand what we’re trying to build. It’s disappointing when we don’t win games. It’s disappointing when we don’t win home games. Nobody is running from that. But this team is playing hard and competing and learning and growing. I think people can see that too.
“We’re going to keep pounding the rock and playing hard and working at it. I’m confident we’ll break through.”
It’s Boylen’s job to remain positive. Is anybody else confident?
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