ORLANDO, Fla. — For a few minutes at the start of the second half, Jim Boylen was calm.
Well, close enough.
Then Magic guard D.J. Augustin made a tough three-pointer, and Boylen was quickly out of his seat, getting in mock defensive stances from the sideline, pumping his fist, yelling. The old-school dog up to his old tricks.
“One thing I probably need to do better, it’s hard for me, but I think I coach every possession as hard as I can, and I kind of think you’ve got to let the game happen a little bit,’’ Boylen said. “I think that’s just part of my in-game emotion. There can always be growth there.’’
That’s easier said than done for the oft-criticized first-year coach, especially in a 110-109 nail-biting victory against the red-hot Magic to start the final stretch of the NBA regular season.
It’s a final stretch in which everything is being evaluated by Boylen, including himself.
“I think what I’ve improved at is how I communicate with the team and what I think is important, getting in and getting out,’’ Boylen said. “They obviously don’t want to hear your voice all the time.
“This level is about leadership. What I’ve been asked to do is lead our team and lead our staff, and every day I try to do that. I also think there are moments where you learn on the fly with that.’’
That’s exactly what Boylen seemed to be doing about 12 weeks ago, when he took over after Fred Hoiberg was fired.
There were boot-camp-style practices — suicide sprints and all — a two-player mutiny attempt and an embarrassing 56-point home loss to the Celtics to go along with a backdrop of player injuries and a stripped-down offense.
“People made it out to be a lot worse than it really was,’’ guard Ryan Arcidiacono said about the first few weeks of Boylen’s tenure. “I mean, you have a couple of tough practices, and we actually needed that. It just so happened that we had a back-to-back, the coaching change, won a very energetic game against the Thunder and then came back and got our butts kicked against the Celtics. It was, like, a combination of things, but from the inside, it was never as bad as people on the outside said it was.
“And now it feels like things are coming together.’’
The addition of Otto Porter Jr. in a deadline trade with the Wizards was big, especially for a team that lacked a starting small forward. The Bulls are 3-2 since Porter was acquired, and he had 17 points against Orlando.
And Boylen’s growth on the job also can’t be denied.
“I’ve seen a lot of progression,’’ Arcidiacono said. “Nobody is perfect, and he kind of had to get into us like he did, kind of shock the system.’’
Like the Bulls (15-44) shocked the Magic, who fouled Lauri Markkanen on a three-point shot with 1.5 seconds left. He missed the first, then made the last two, and the Bulls held on to win a game that had 23 lead changes.
Markkanen had 25 points and 11 rebounds, and Zach LaVine had 22 points and six assists.
“We’ve opened [up the offense] a little bit,’’ LaVine said. “Otto definitely helps with his spacing because you can’t leave a guy like that. And I think we’re starting to get into a little bit of a rhythm, starting to have a little fun out there, too.
“All of our games should elevate.’’