Nikola Mirotic had just put the Bulls on his back Monday, repeatedly hitting big shots down the stretch against the 76ers, en route to the team’s sixth consecutive victory —coincidentally all with him in the lineup.
Mirotic scored 22 points, including three three-pointers, and grabbed 13 rebounds during the Bulls’ thrilling 117-115 win over the 76ers.
But Mirotic saved his best shot for last, one he put up right in the face of the media.
During a postgame interview, Vincent Goodwill of NBC Sports Chicago asked Mirotic what it is about his game that seems to be working. Mirotic said that all his hard work in the summer has been paying off. Then, the player who is fluid in four languages abruptly changed the topic.
“You guys like to make a lot of fun of me and I don’t know why,” Mirotic said with a wry smile. “Especially you guys. I like it. I don’t take it personally. I’m used to that, so I’m going to do just my job.”
Goodwill quickly came back with: “We can’t make fun of you now — six in a row.”
Mirotic responded: “Yeah, nothing personal like I say. I know you guys are doing your work, and I’m trying to do mine. We are 6-0 and I’m sure we’ll be 7-0 [after] the next one.”
Though it was a bit unclear as to what Mirotic was referring to, clearly it’s something that weighs on him.
After taking a practice punch from Bobby Portis that knocked him out of the first 23 games, Mirotic was not in a talkative mood. Now, after having led the Bulls to six in a row and posting the eighth-best player efficiency rating (26.98) in the NBA (five or more games), Mirotic is beginning to open up.
Best guess is Mirotic may have been addressing the ribbing he used to take about his signature pump-fake move, something he apparently has discarded.
Mirotic addressed the pump-fake criticism during a March interview with Goodwill:
“Sometimes, especially when I’m reading you guys (media), Niko pump fake, pump fake,” Mirotic said with a smile. “Okay, no more pump fakes, just fire that ball. I’m laughing because you guys are (right)…that’s true. You guys want me to shoot. It doesn’t look good when you pump fake every time you have a wide-open shot.”
Mirotic is off to the best start of his career, averaging 20.3 points per game and 7.3 rebounds.