In just 17 minutes against one of the best defensive teams in the league and on a national stage, 10-year guard Mike James proved to himself what hes believed all along. Even with just being in the D-League this time last week, he is still capable of contributing to an NBA team.
Being in the D-League, it was tough for me because Ive always believed Im an NBA basketball player, still, but if thats what I had to do to prove myself, I had to put my pride to the side and humble myself, said James. Its just the passion and the love of the game of basketball took more control than focusing on where I was.
James scored 8 points to go along with 4 assists before fouling out with the Bulls up 87-78 with 41 seconds remaining.
While the numbers dont justify his impact, his floater with 5:47 remaining in the second quarter -- while the Bulls were down 31-26 and searching for a spark -- helped key a 20-4 run to close the half that gave Chicago a 44-35 lead going into the third.
His defense also helped slow Rajon Rondo down in the first half as the Celtics point guard went to the post a few times against C.J. Watson and John Lucas, but would find a tougher time jostling for position down low against the bigger body of James.
Mike is tough. Hes a pro and he came in just ready and we didnt miss a beat, said Deng. A lot of teams, having someone whos gone and his first game back, the rhythm would be messed up a little bit but hes been going in early and learning the plays.
After just under two minutes in the third, James would be called on in the fourth with the Bulls up 66-63 with under 10 minutes remaining and the Celtics gaining momentum, he would respond by scoring 6 points and 3 assists while Watson and Lucas cheered.
James was originally signed because Derrick Rose was dealing with a turf toe injury and Watson was still recovering from a left elbow injury. With Rose is out again, James is third on the point guard depth chart with Watson and Lucas healthy, but his mentality is one Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau talks about routinely.
You have to be professional, you have to be ready. One thing I always say is it always is better to be ready than to get ready, said James. Mentally, I approach every game the same way. Whether I get a DNP or I dont. Im constantly always visualizing the game in my mind. I always prepare by who Im playing against and so if Im not playing, I sit and I try to be the best teammates and cheer my teammates on. If I play, mentally, Im already into the game and Im in tuned to it.
For someone who works as hard as James has been to gain a permanent spot on an NBA roster, again, his teammates are happy to have him back and his attitude and work ethic has served as a constant reminder on what it means to be a professional.
We told him when he came back, we were all happy to see him back, said Luol Deng. This is a guy thats been going in early, getting to know the plays, working out, getting in shape and when hes not out there working, hes getting into the gym early. For the whole team, seeing something like this is great. It keeps you focused on what our goal is.
While his status with the team isnt guaranteed -- signed to a 10-day contract on Tuesday -- James has made good each time hes seen action.
Dealing with the uncertainty of even seeing action and being closer to a return to the D-League than he is with a permanent location for the remainder of the season, James devotion to his religion and his readiness have kept him prepared for anything that may come.
I always believe in my heart Im exactly where Im supposed to be whether its good or bad, says James. Gods faith is in my life and wherever Im at is where Im meant to be at the time. I appreciate and I take advantage of the opportunities.