What was a 13-point lead over the Lakers when the fourth quarter began dwindled quickly as Boylen rode a struggling unit of five second-stringers. He chose to offer no life raft as another golden opportunity to earn a victory sunk in front of his eyes.
Boylen declined to reinsert a starter as trouble initially emerged, not turning to Zach LaVine and Wendell Carter Jr. until the Lakers had trimmed the lead to four with 9:16 left. Boylen bypassed calling a timeout until 8:12 remained, by which time the Lakers had extended their run to 16-0 and taken a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
In the aftermath of the 118-112 loss at the United Center that dropped the Bulls to 2-6, Boylen was unflinching in his methods that were more perplexing to outside observers than to him.
“Nope,” Boylen said when asked if he regretted not turning to his starters sooner. “Because I’m going to develop this bench and I’m going to develop this team. I’ve got 15 guys to develop. I’m going to play them in those moments, and they’re going to learn to play winning basketball. I’ve never yanked guys. I’ve never done that, you know. I’m not doing that. We’re going develop that second group, and we’re going to have a bench here in Chicago. I’m going to keep coaching them.”
What had happened earlier had informed Boylen’s thinking. The second unit – Coby White, Kris Dunn, Chandler Hutchison, Thad Young and Luke Kornet – was a driving force in the Bulls taking a 17-point halftime lead, outplaying the Lakers in what Boylen called his team’s best half of basketball of the young season.
What looms in the Bulls’ rebuild also informed Boylen’s thought process. He often references the “growth plates” for a young team, and he viewed this as an example for his reserves.
“Because we got to figure out,” Boylen said when asked why he didn’t call a timeout. “We got to learn. We got to settle down. I want to see somebody take control and take over the thing. That’s where we got to grow. I had four (timeouts), I think. I could’ve used one and didn’t. It was on my heart. It was on my mind. Timeouts have nothing to do with a free-throw line boxout. Timeouts got nothing to do with moving it to the next guy. It doesn’t have anything to do with it.”
Given how the Lakers locked in defensively in the final 12 minutes and the dominance of LeBron James (30 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists), a fair likelihood existed that the Bulls still would’ve lost even if Boylen had been more proactive early in the fourth quarter. The counterpoint is that Boylen – who set reaching the playoffs as a goal in training camp – didn’t put his team in the best position to earn a victory by hanging a struggling group out to dry.
Boylen hinted that he understood the burden falls on his shoulders.
“I’m the head coach of the team, and I’ll take responsibility for the fourth quarter,” Boylen said. “I got to do a better job of getting our guys to understand winning basketball. They’re a young group. That’s what I got to do.”
The setback to the Lakers marked the second time that the Bulls have lost a game that they led by 18 points or more this season. Beyond that, they also squandered a 10-point lead with less than six minutes remaining in a season-opening loss.
That represents three collapses for the team just eight games into the season.
“I came in and I talked to the guys,” Young said. “I told them at some point, it’s got to hurt. We’ve got to stop the bleeding at some point. It’s got to hurt. When it starts to hurt too bad, then that’s when we’re going to win games.”