Zach LaVine was benched by head coach Jim Boylen just three minutes into another humiliating Chicago Bulls’ loss to the Miami Heat on Friday night. On Saturday, LaVine responded by scoring 49 points and making 13 three-point shots to will Chicago to the most improbable victory of the young NBA season over the Charlotte Hornets.
The Bulls were down eight points to Charlotte with 45 seconds left and trailed by five points with nine seconds left as Tomas Satoranky attempted a three-pointer. Satoransky’s shot went in and the Bulls went into a full court trap, forcing a steal, and allowing LaVine to race back to the three-point line for the final dagger.
Charlotte had a 99.8 percent chance of winning in the final minute. You might not see a wilder ending all season.
Zach LaVine hit 13 threes tonight, a franchise record and just the third player in NBA history to reach that mark. The 13th was the game winner. pic.twitter.com/omcTtKVhnp— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) November 24, 2019
The Bulls felt like they were on the brink of a tailspin. Despite publicly stating their goal was to make the playoffs at the onset of the season, Chicago entered the night tied for the league’s fifth-worst winning percentage. After the victory, the Bulls are now only a game out of the No. 8 seed in the East. Such is life at the bottom of the playoff picture in basketball’s Quadruple-A conference.
LaVine’s performance is even more compelling given his developing beef with Boylen. The player and coach were trading barbs in the media just one night before he played the hero in Charlotte. This is what you need to know about LaVine, Boylen, and a roller coaster 24 hours for the Bulls.
LaVine had one of the greatest shooting performances ever
Here’s the list of players who have hit 13 or more three-pointers in an NBA game: the Splash Brothers and LaVine. That’s the type of historical company LaVine put himself in on Saturday with his hot shooting.
LaVine went 13-of-17 from three-point range on the night and made seven triples in the fourth quarter, including a 33-foot bank shot that preceded his game-winner. This is the performance of a lifetime.
LaVine was a trendy pick to make his first all-star appearance this season with the game being in Chicago. Instead, his numbers are down across the board from a season ago and the Bulls have been one of the most disappointing teams in the league. His defense has been an abomination and his offensive decision-making hasn’t been much better. He’s still a talented player, but never should have been cast as a leading man by Bulls management in the first place.
LaVine’s season hit rock bottom just one night earlier, when Boylen yanked LaVine out of the game and challenged him in the media. LaVine’s ensuing responses sure made it seem like the wheels were completely falling off in Chicago.
LaVine and Boylen were beefing before the game
As the Bulls were in the process of going down 13-0 to start Friday’s game vs. the Heat, Boylen yanked LaVine after just 3:27 to send a message. After the game, Boylen cited LaVine making three egregious defensive mistakes as the reason for pulling him. LaVine responded professionally, but challenged the notion that he was solely to blame.
Boylen: I pulled LaVine because he made three egregious defensive mistakes— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) November 23, 2019
LaVine: Zach LaVine got 13 points scored on him or was it the starting five? I don’t remember.
We’ve got drama, folks. More: https://t.co/G8vZrq70po pic.twitter.com/rdUBD0rumy
LaVine spoke to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo! Sports (who previously was on the Bulls beat) after the game and certainly seemed to indicate his relationship with his coach was souring.
Q: Does [Boylen] trust you?
A: I feel I earned that trust, but I guess he feels differently. Other players around the league — and everybody’s situation isn’t the same — I feel other players around the league have that trust. I guess we haven’t got there.
Q: Do you trust him still?
A: I’m trying my best, I’ll say that. I’m playing my minutes and trying to do the best I can do. It’s tough, especially when you’re in a rut. If he doesn’t trust me, it’s hard to trust someone who doesn’t trust you.
LaVine had reason to be frustrated. Boylen has been throwing his players under the bus throughout the season. He publicly called out LaVine and Lauri Markkanen for needing to play better after the loss to Miami. A week earlier, after blowing another fourth quarter lead against the Nets, Boylen said “I can’t go out there and play for them.”
Boylen has looked incredibly overmatched and throughly incompetent since taking over for Fred Hoiberg midway through last season (in addition to being a bad coach, Boylen is also a liar and a hypocrite). Not only has his tactical ability come under fire, but he also has shown a woeful inability to be a leader. Remember, Boylen’s Bulls tenure started with a 56-point home loss to the Celtics that caused a near mutiny among the players when he tried to make them practice the next day in a stretch of three games in four nights.
Boylen and LaVine met before the game vs. Charlotte to clear the air — LaVine said he let Boylen know how he felt, while Boylen offered this bit of meathead wisdom: “That’s the greatest love you can show somebody,” Boylen said. “It’s to try to help them become who they can become.”
Has Boylen lost the locker room? Did LaVine’s heroics save him?
It certainly looked like Bulls players told Boylen to go away as they were celebrating LaVine’s game-winner on the court. Is this real or a misinterpretation?
Bulls players to Boylen GTFO pic.twitter.com/qABQDyc2u4— Ⓜ️arcusD ▶️ (@_MarcusD3_) November 24, 2019
The reality is Boylen’s job doesn’t need saving. He is good at exactly one thing as an NBA head coach: deflecting blame from where it really deserves to go, which is to his bosses.
While Bulls fans have been turned “Fire GarPax” (named for the long-time front office tandem of John Paxson and Gar Forman) into a rallying cry, Boylen continuously praises management in the media. Bulls brass has a long history of not getting along with their head coaches, and Boylen is bucking that trend by sucking up at every opportunity, even if he’s been objectively terrible at his job so far. It’s Paxson and Forman who deserve the blame for the Bulls’ bad season even more so than Boylen, LaVine, and Markkanen.
The Bulls should have lost to Charlotte, but their maligned shooting guard bailed them out. It always seems to be something in Chicago, whether it’s teammates punching each other in the face or deep rifts within the team that have to be settled on Instagram.
Drama is nothing new for the Bulls. Superstar performances like the one LaVine delivered on Sunday are.