OKLAHOMA CITY — Even on a night that should’ve been drama-free, these Bulls just can’t help themselves.
With 4:27 left in the third quarter and the Bulls down by 21 to the Thunder, coach Jim Boylen’s men showed some fight.
Maybe it wasn’t what Boylen had in mind, but he wasn’t going to complain about it, either.
Thunder forward Jerami Grant took issue with Kris Dunn after a foul by Cameron Payne. He shoved Dunn, and it was on. Robin Lopez got in on the shoving action, as did All-Star Russell Westbrook. Heck, even Boylen found himself in the ruckus, doing his best to lock up Grant and pull him away from his players.
When cooler heads prevailed, Dunn, Grant, Lopez and Westbrook were all hit with technicals but stayed in the game.
At least for a bit.
A few minutes later, Lopez grabbed a rebound after a foul was called. With Grant down on the court by his feet, Lopez dropped the ball on him to pick up a second technical and an ejection.
The Bulls wouldn’t be upsetting the Thunder for a second time in the last 10 days, losing 121-96, but that wasn’t the talk after the game.
“I suppose I should start by saying I’m biased, but I was just trying to stand up for [Dunn],’’ Lopez said. “I saw someone come flying in from the corner of my eye from the other side of the floor, and I was just trying to stand up for my point guard right there.’’
Considering what has gone on with the Bulls since Boylen’s takeover on Dec. 3, a few shoves and an ejection were actually pretty mild.
And Boylen seems to be embracing all of it: the controversy, the criticism, the outside opinions. Bring it on.
“I think perseverance is one of my positive traits — one of many — but also I think that I know from this business that it’s a long season, and you’re going to go through some difficult times, but I look at this thing as a family,’’ Boylen said. “Your family is going to have moments where things are difficult. Maybe you communicate poorly, maybe you have drama, an issue, and that’s a moment to stand up and reinforce the things you believe in. My job is to set the course, maintain the course and correct the course. Sometimes you’ve got to correct the course, and I try to do that directly, honestly, fairly but also in my way.’’
It’s a philosophy his players seem to be embracing more and more, even the few players who were initially pushing back in the wake of Fred Hoiberg’s firing.
Boylen isn’t backing down from any of it.
“If you run from confrontation, I don’t think you’re going to last very long in this business,’’ Boylen said. “Now, I have not been combative. I have not been degrading. We just have to address the things that we have to do better as a team. I go back to: You violate the essence of the team; we’re going to have a tough conversation.
“Who’s the [football] coach at Georgia? Kirby Smart. I love his saying. ‘We gotta keep making the main thing the main thing.’ I believe in that. Sometimes we get sidetracked. But the main thing is the essence of the team. When we don’t make the main thing the main thing, that bothers me. And you’re going to hear from me on it. That’s just coaching. That’s family.’’