Tough week for new coach Jim Boylen ends with a Bulls victory in his home debut
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It hasn’t been the easiest week for Bulls coach Jim Boylen.
He has been trying to put his thumbprint on the roster, trying to get his players to buy into a heavy workload and trying to show that a lifetime assistant deserves a seat at the exclusive NBA head-coaching table.
But none of that has been as difficult as the awkwardness of his friendship with former coach Fred Hoiberg.
‘‘It’s awful,’’ Boylen said when he was asked about his relationship with his good friend since the Bulls changed coaches Monday. ‘‘It’s gut-wrenching for him; it’s gut-wrenching for me. [Hoiberg] sent me a text before the Indiana game [Tuesday that said]: ‘Good luck, I know you’re going to be great.’ It was awesome. I texted him back, obviously, but this thing is raw and it’s tough and it’s hard. . . . It’s hard.
‘‘But we’re different people. We have different styles. It’s not one bad, one good; it’s just different.’’
What was different Friday was a Bulls victory.
Thanks to a lay-in by Lauri Markkanen with 4.9 seconds left, the Bulls gave Boylen a victory in his home debut, defeating the Thunder 114-112.
The victory ended a seven-game losing streak and showed how good Markkanen can be in his second season. He scored 24 points in only his third game back from a sprained right elbow that cost him the first 23 games of the season.
‘‘I was 100 percent going to [forward] Justin [Holiday] because he made the last three,’’ Markkanen said of his heroics. ‘‘I saw [Thunder defender Paul] George jumping to my other side, so I thought I had my spin open.
‘‘I’ve always been comfortable [late in games].’’
What continued to become clear is that while Boylen believes in a slower pace than Hoiberg, he’s not against letting his players go on offense when the time calls for it. A good example was a 70-point first half in which the Bulls shot 57 percent from the field, including 9-for-18 from three-point range.
‘‘The good teams that I’ve been a part of can play fast, they can play slow, but they always play smart,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘So I don’t know if we’re going to be a team that plays at an unbelievable pace or doesn’t. What I hope we can do is play winning basketball.
‘‘On the road, I think you have to have a different mentality. I was with the Rockets and Rudy Tomjanovich, and we played with a different mentality on the road than we did at home. I believe in that. I’ve been a part of it. I’ve seen it work. I don’t know if our team even understands any of that, so this is new ground for them.’’
As good as the Bulls’ first half was, the third quarter was a nightmare. Markkanen was forced to the bench after apparently reinjuring his right elbow, and the Thunder outscored the Bulls 29-17 to take the lead going into the fourth.
Rather than shrink in the clutch, however, the Bulls put up a fight. But after a turnover by Zach LaVine (25 points) led to a layup by the Thunder’s Dennis Schroder with 34 seconds left, it seemed like the same old Bulls. Until it wasn’t.
Markkanen made a perfect drive-and-kick to a wide-open Holiday, whose three-pointer put the Bulls ahead 112-110 with 22.7 seconds left. After Thunder star Russell Westbrook tied the score, Markkanen made sure he had the final say with what proved to be the game-winner.
Westbrook finished with 24 points, 17 rebounds, 13 assists and 10 turnovers, but the Bulls finished with the victory.
‘‘I guess it’s good I got banged up,’’ Markkanen said.