Bulls had 56 reasons to avenge a December loss to Boston and pulled it off

SHARE Bulls had 56 reasons to avenge a December loss to Boston and pulled it off
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There were 56 reasons for Saturday to play out like it did.

And Bulls players were remembering all 56 of them.

Then again, how couldn’t they?

The events that took place in early December not only made headlines throughout the city but made the Bulls a story across the NBA, and for all the wrong reasons.

Just five days after Fred Hoiberg was fired and the Jim Boylen Era began, the Bulls were coming off a huge victory against the Thunder and hosting the Celtics on Dec. 8. What followed was an embarrassing 56-point loss that set a franchise record in futility.

That led to a series of tense moments: Boylen calling for a practice on a scheduled day off, an attempted two-player mutiny, the forming of a players committee and some serious question marks about Boylen’s hard-edge coaching style from inside and outside the locker room.

But after a few key personnel changes and 10 weeks of getting used to their new coach, the Bulls had a response Saturday.

Thanks to career highs from Zach LaVine (42 points) and Lauri Markkanen (35 points), the Bulls earned a sweet 126-116 victory against the Celtics at the United Center. It marked the first time two Bulls scored 35 points or more in the same game since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on Nov. 20, 1996.

“We had it in the back of our minds, but we didn’t talk about it too much,’’ Markkanen said on thoughts of revenge. “We’ve had a ton of adversity, and the only way you can fight through it is come together. That’s what we’ve been doing.

“It’s good to see results come through. We never doubted ourselves. What was it, our third game with Jim [on Dec. 8]? We’re in a different place, and you saw that.’’

Boylen agreed.

“We are a different team than we were at that time,’’ Boylen said. “There’s been a lot to do about that situation. I was brought in to effect change. That was a moment that I thought we changed the most. Although it wasn’t pleasant, it was necessary, and I feel in my heart we’re seeing the benefits of that situation now.’’

With the Bulls at 16-44, and 4-2 since trading Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis to the Wizards for Otto Porter Jr., Boylen was asked about his “hard-ass’’ reputation and whether it was fair.

“I think everybody knows deep in their heart, deep in their soul what they need,’’ Boylen said. “I felt that I knew what the team needed at that moment. I don’t feel any pushback at all from these guys.

“A little adversity, a little tough time, a little uncomfortableness isn’t the end of the world. My job is to prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child. These guys are men. I’m trying to prepare them for the road. That’s my job and what I’ve been asked to do.’’

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Are the Bulls starting to embrace the Boylen way?

Not that Boylen is the same guy he was a few months ago. He has lightened up on the suicide sprints in practice, according to several players, and has loosened up the constraints on the offense as promised.

The Celtics (37-23) saw that firsthand. LaVine also tied his season high with five three-pointers, and Markkanen is now averaging 26.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in his last eight games.

As far as Boylen and his reputation?

“If a hard-ass style is being direct and honest and pushing guys to maybe a place they can’t take themselves without being combative, then I guess I’m a hard ass,’’ Boylen said.

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