MIAMI—Happy days are here again?
It sure looked that way Wednesday night as the dark cloud hanging over the Bulls after almost a week of controversy and losses cleared with a 126-96 rout of the Miami Heat despite the return of Shaquille O'Neal.
"There were a lot of things said before the game in the locker room by players that I'll keep to myself that show me we really do have a good group of guys. Even though we've been struggling this year I truly do believe in them."
And then Boylan offered a rare smile if not a song of cheer.
"Shooting," he said, "is a beautiful thing."
The Bulls, in scoring their season high in points and making 57.3 percent of their shots, were reminiscent of the team here last April that sent the defending NBA champions home in a playoff sweep and introduced themselves to the NBA elite. The ball moved quickly, and repeatedly, Bulls players flashing by Heat statues, laying the ball in and pulling up for open jumpers.
Ben Gordon led with 24 points and hit 8 of 10 free throws.
Joe Smith, who has been a revelation of late, hit 9 of 10 shots for 23 points.
Luol Deng, finding his interior cuts again and quick jumpers, added 21.
Andres Nocioni, who seemed doubtful after a harrowing fall Tuesday night in Orlando, had 20 points and could have bitten the head off a live chicken with his feet in boiling water.
Thabo Sefolosha, starting again for Kirk Hinrich because of Hinrich's back spasms, had 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting. The past two games the supposedly poor shooting guard has made 10 of 13 shots, suggesting his eventual movement to the starting lineup as that long elusive big, defensive guard.
"We wanted to come out and get some type of momentum going back home," Smith said. "There's a lot of pride in this locker room, be aggressive and get back to defending."
It was that and more for arguably the best all-around effort the Bulls have had this season.
Perhaps all they needed was a bit more distress.
It came first with the outburst and suspension of Joakim Noah, who was active with eight rebounds in 16 minutes, and then an alleged dispute in the locker room Tuesday night after players were a little too jaunty on the bench during the loss to the Magic.
Bulls players again were whooping it up on the bench in the fourth quarter, but for the right reasons this time.
"Everybody gets frustrated, coaches, GM, owners, fans, everybody," center Ben Wallace said. "It's up to us in this locker room to get this thing turned around. You got 12-15 guys here with different personalities., Sometimes when that comes together there's going to be frustration. We're not asking anyone not to be frustrated. Our approach tonight was determined."
Right from the beginning, as the Bulls trailed for just 12 seconds.
They bolted out to a 34-23 lead after one, running, opening the court for penetration and kicking for open jumpers. Though O'Neal and Dwyane Wade each had 24, the Heat's power post game, like in last season's playoffs, was no match for the Bulls speed and slashing.
Miami did pull within 60-58 early in the third quarter, but this time the Bulls didn't blink. Smith came along the baseline for a reverse, the ball moved through five hands for a Nocioni jumper, Deng rose up for a quick two and Gordon stepped into a three as the Bulls opened up a 21-point lead with just less than 10 minutes left and emptied the bench for the right reason.
Cares and troubles gone? No more from now on?
"Our guys are a good group and they wanted to make all these distractions go away," said Boylan. "A lot of people were talking about us in negative ways and no one likes that. I think it spoke to the character of our team how we responded. That's great, but we need to play with that kind of enthusiasm and drive every night."