It wasn’t exactly like beer-league goalie Scott Foster coming out of the press box to save a Blackhawks victory, but Bulls assistant coach Jim Boylen admitted he had some butterflies when he was a last-minute replacement for Fred Hoiberg after Hoiberg went home with an upper respiratory infection prior to Sunday’s game against the Wizards.
“Absolutely,” said the 52-year-old Boylen, a 20-year NBA assistant. “I’m a Bull. You want to represent the Bulls well. It’s important.”
As it turned out, Boylen had nothing to worry about. The Bulls played one of their best games of the season with Hoiberg at home and Boylen in the hot seat. They hit 18-of-34 three-point shots and parlayed a hot start into a virtual complete-game 113-94 victory over the Washington Wizards before 20,466 fans at the United Center.
“It was fun,” said Boylen, whose previous experience running an NBA show was as an in-game replacement for ejected Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich in 2014. “I feel bad for Fred. I’ve never seen him this sick before. [But] it was pretty cool. Before the game, John Paxson [the Bulls’ vice-president of basketball operations] grabbed me and said, ‘Have fun with it.’ And that’s what we did.”
Without foundation guards Kris Dunn (toe) and Zach LaVine (left knee tendinitis), who each missed his ninth consecutive game, the Bulls (26-51) are meandering to the finish of a difficult season. But even against a Wizards (42-35) team that was without all-star guard John Wall —sitting out the second of back-to-back games after returning from knee surgery against the Hornets on Saturday night — the Bulls victory had some merit:
- It was their first victory over a non-tanking team since Feb. 9, when they beat the Timberwolves 114-113 at the United Center. Until Sunday, they had beaten only Orlando twice, Memphis twice, Dallas and Atlanta and were 0-16 against everybody else.
- Coming off a 90-82 victory over the Magic on Friday night, the Bulls won back-to-back games for the first time since Jan. 13-15, when they beat the Pistons and Heat.
- Lauri Markkanen, playing in consecutive games for the first time since March 3-5 because of a back issue, hit 5-of-8 three-point shots and scored 23 points to lead the Bulls. It was Markkanen’s highest point total in 26 games, since scoring 33 points against the Knicks on Jan. 10 at Madison Square Garden.
- Led by Markkanen, Bobby Portis (4-of-5) and Justin Holiday (2-of-2), the Bulls tied a franchise record with 18 three-point baskets. Eight players hit at least one three-pointer.
- After Markkanen hit a three-pointer to give the Bulls an 8-6 lead with 8:19 left in the first quarter, the Bulls never trailed. Where they often wilt in the fourth quarter, the Bulls finished strong this time. They led by double-digits for all but 21 seconds of the fourth quarter.
Asked if he added any new wrinkles, Boylen said: “We felt we could drive the ball. After one pass, they like to get out and pressure and we felt we could drive ‘em and maybe back-cut them a little bit and I think that happened in the first half [and] kind of loosened them up. You have to give the guys credit [for that].”
But Boylen deserved his share, as well.
“It was a little different. Coach Boylen did a great job of motivating us, holding us accountable,” guard Denzel Valentine said. “He’s been in winning programs. He knows how to coach. I don’t think we missed a step.”