CHICAGO — Chicago Bulls forwards Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis are making the type of professional transition that many never thought possible two months ago when Portis broke Mirotic’s face and gave him a concussion after a scuffle in practice. The pair combined for 47 points and 12 rebounds as the Bulls knocked off the Boston Celtics 108-85 to win their third straight game on Monday night.
The Bulls are now 3-0 since Mirotic’s return last Friday against the Charlotte Hornets. They were 3-20 previously.
According to Elias Sports Bureau research, this is the first time Mirotic and Portis have been the top two scorers in a game for the Bulls. Chicago has also outscored opponents by 22 points with the duo on the court together.
“Niko’s been awesome,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “That’s obviously an understatement with getting him back and winning the three games that he’s been in our lineup … He and Bobby were terrific again playing together. [Boston] went small with [Al] Horford at the 5 and we kept Bobby and Niko out there for a good stretch of time and it paid off for us. Those guys were playing off each other. When we got switches, they were hitting each other in the high-low, finding each other. I just love the chemistry that those two are playing with right now.”
The pair’s reunion on the floor is even more stunning when considering that Mirotic wouldn’t speak to Portis for weeks after the incident, with speculation abounding that the two might never play in Chicago together again. Mirotic, who finally accepted Portis’ apology through the media recently, still hasn’t revealed whether the pair has spoken privately. But their chemistry on the floor over the past three games in undeniable, culminating in several high-fives and fist pounds on the way down the floor after a successful play.
“Why?” Mirotic said. “Because we have to play well. Every day we are trying to be better. We are just trying to make it simple. Do our job. I’m doing my job, he’s doing his job, and right now I think when we are both on the court it seems that the team is playing well.”
Portis echoed the same sentiments after the Bulls’ most complete win of the season.
“Just going out there and playing off each other,” Portis said. “Both of us can pick and pop. That’s always been a big thing with Fred’s offense, us being able to make shots. When you make shots his offense looks great. And both of us can make shots and take and make good shots. Also, me being at the 5 has also helped, too, because I can roll and I can pop, too, and I can just mix it up.”
As the rest of the basketball world tries to process what it is seeing, Hoiberg doesn’t seem shocked the young pair has found such a nice rhythm together.
“I’m not,” Hoiberg said. “They’re both pros. They’re both guys that are going to go out and play with great passion and emotion. You can see it with the way they’re playing out there. I love the way those guys are playing together and hopefully they’ll keep it going. It’s been fun. It’s been fun to watch.”
Mirotic, who started in place of Lauri Markkanen (back spasms), gave Hoiberg credit for creating the space on the floor to get both players rolling.
“Just reading each other,” said Mirotic while discussing why it’s clicking so well with Portis. “Today he made three 3s. When he’s popping and trying to roll, just reading the defense the same way. When I’m popping, he’s going to the basket … it was just good recognition about the game. We prepared well. Just playing good basketball, finally.”
The relief within the Bulls’ locker room has been palpable over the past few days as Mirotic’s arrival has given the group a much-needed jolt of confidence. Mirotic is playing with the type of poise the Bulls have seen in flashes over the past four years, while Portis is showing the type of subtle growth the Bulls were hoping for in a rebuilding year. The pair has pushed the ugly preseason incident behind them as their beleaguered team plays its best basketball of the season.
“That situation’s over, man,” Portis said of the issues with Mirotic. “We’re just trying to play basketball for our team and win basketball games. Everybody keeps talking about that, but that doesn’t matter anymore. We’re just trying to win, go out there and compete and do what we do best. Both of us know to play basketball, and obviously on the court you can tell that we’re obviously trying to win also.”