Bulls’ lack of toughness was evident Friday, and that needs to change

SHARE Bulls’ lack of toughness was evident Friday, and that needs to change
SHARE Bulls’ lack of toughness was evident Friday, and that needs to change

Bulls forward Otto Porter Jr. has played in 31 playoff games and four postseason series since the Wizards drafted him third overall in 2013. He knows what playoff basketball looks like.

Maybe that’s why he felt compelled to talk to his teammates after the Bulls’ meltdown loss Friday to the Pistons at the United Center.

‘‘The second half of the game last night was playoff basketball,’’ Porter said Saturday. ‘‘That’s the difference. The physicality, the tempo, the attention to details.’’

The young Bulls failed miserably in all three of those facets. They led 66-49 at the half, then scored only 14 points in the third quarter and were outscored 43-24 in the fourth in a 112-104 loss.

No wonder toughness is still a question with the young core.

‘‘You’ve got to learn it,’’ Porter said. ‘‘I had to learn it at a young age, too, whether that was at Georgetown in my college days or my first couple of years in the league with Washington. And we had a lot of vet guys.

‘‘It was something that I had to pick up on by just watching. They led by example, and they showed the way it’s supposed to be done. And that’s how I learned. For me to come here with these young guys, I’m going to try and show them that this is what it takes, this is what you’ve gotta do, and it’s up to them to learn.’’


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Yes, there’s a certain amount of physical maturity that will take place naturally. The Bulls saw that last summer, when big man Lauri Markkanen came to training camp all muscled up from lifting weights during the offseason, only to injure his right elbow early in camp.

Markkanen likely will get back to that this summer, and 19-year-old big man Wendell Carter Jr. also will look to bulk up for his second season.

But there’s more to it than just building body mass so Blake Griffin can’t have his way with the Bulls, like he did Friday.

‘‘I think a couple of things have to happen,’’ coach Jim Boylen said. ‘‘We have to show [toughness] when we’re not and the other team is, so at least they know what it looks like. So we do that a lot. We show them what I think they need to see. Then we have to practice at a high level with physicality, with toughness, with competitiveness to get the best out of each other. And also I think some of it is just maturity. Maturity only happens with the passage of time.

‘‘Lauri’s body is going to look different next year than it does right now and right on down the line. [Injured swingman] Denzel [Valentine] already looks different than he did last year, stuff like that. It’s physical strength, mental toughness, but you have to identify it and show them what it is, then hopefully they can understand it.’’

That’s why Boylen has no plans of letting up with his starters in the Bulls’ final 15 games, whether positioning in the draft lottery is on the line or not.

‘‘One of the reasons I’m trying to make every game as meaningful as possible is because of that,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘If we can’t handle the pressure that I’m putting on us, how are we going to handle a Game 7 at Toronto to move to the next round? That’s how I think about it.’’

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