A couple hours before the Bulls’ third straight loss began, head coach Jim Boylen said playing an opponent finishing a back-to-back set of games wouldn’t change his strategy.
Then he used an eight-man rotation and played Thad Young small forward minutes for the first time this season.
The move didn’t prevent the Bulls from falling to 10 games under .500 following their 111-104 loss to the Celtics, which wasted Zach LaVine’s 35 points. And Boylen wouldn’t commit to using the shortened rotation again.
But Boylen’s decision to only use Young, Coby White and Daniel Gafford as reserves pushed all the starters’ minutes but Lauri Markkanen’s north of 35. And Markkanen was headed close to there until he exited with 4 minutes, 9 seconds left after rolling his left ankle when Marcus Smart fell on him.
Markkanen walked gingerly out of the United Center late Saturday. The Bulls next play in Dallas on Monday.
The shortened rotation led to starters’ minutes more typical for frontline players and also featured fewer offensively-challenged lineups. Nevertheless, the Bulls shot 42.5 percent.
“I wanted to give it a look. And I played three big guys together. This was the team to do it against. And I liked it,” Boylen said. “I’ll have to evaluate it. I’ll have the numbers [Sunday]. But I liked it. It’s something I’ve been thinking about. And we’ll see.”
Boylen pointed to the Celtics’ use of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward as the main impetus for the experiment.
“They have three 6-8 guys who handle the ball,” he said.
Young said Boylen informed him of the move at the morning shootaround.
“Set screens. Space around the 3-point line. There’s no real difference in playing small forward or playing power forward,” Young said. “For me, it was just going out there and playing some extended minutes and being able to be out there with Lauri and Wendell [Carter Jr.] at the same time. That was kind of different. I think we were fine. We were better as far as the defensive side and moving the basketball.
“But when you start shifting guys, it throws a lot of different things off for what we do as a team. This is very unusual territory when you start moving guys in and out of the lineup. It’s just one of those things we have to continue to figure out as we go.”
Ironically, Young’s camp expressing displeasure over his lack of playing time two weeks ago is what initially led to Boylen fielding questions about trying Young at small forward. Boylen downplayed those questions and gave no inkling Saturday’s change was coming.
Young scored 12 points in just over 27 minutes.
“Thad did a good job because he can guard multiple positions. He’s tough. He’s a vet. He knows exactly what he’s doing,” LaVine said. “It’s a new offense for him. It’s been a little tough for him. But he’s a dude who you love having on the team. You know what he brings. You know his mentality. He hit a big 3 and came up with some big stops and steals. I love having Thad out there.”
Markkanen’s ankle injury forced Boylen to bring Young back and also burn his final timeout after he used two in the third quarter because, in his words, he didn’t like the Bulls’ energy.
"We practice to not have timeouts,” Boylen said. “I'm not in fear mode that we don't have timeouts because we're prepared to not have them."
As for the rotation, be prepared for anything.
“I’ve been wrestling with it, thinking about it. We haven’t been able to practice [the shortened rotation] a whole bunch because of our practice time,” Boylen said. “I’m not going to say we’re going to do it every game. And I’m not going to say we’re not going to do it. I wanted to look at it. And I’m glad I did.”
Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.