Why Bulls’ implosion vs. Nuggets made Billy Donovan ‘really emotional’

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Rob Schaefer
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Why implosion vs. Nuggets made Donovan ‘really emotional’ originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

In postgame comments to reporters after the Bulls’ 14-point collapse to the Nuggets in Denver on Friday, frustration bubbled from Billy Donovan in a way it hasn’t -- at least publicly -- at any point in his first season heading the team.

As he recounted “self-inflicted" wounds -- fouls on 3-point shooters, defensive lapses, careless turnovers -- that led to the Bulls’ squandering their second double-digit, fourth-quarter lead in three nights, his voice rose. His words to describe the team’s lack of mental fortitude were sharp as iron and blunt as a boulder all at once. Even over Zoom, the tension was palpable

Imagine him on the Ball Arena sidelines as the implosion was taking place.

“I got really, really upset on the bench when they (the Nuggets) started to come back,” Donovan said. “I was really emotional on the bench with them.”

Why? Well, when it happens enough, the early signs of that brand of mind-boggling, self-prophetic -- Donovan’s words -- loss become an easy-to-read pattern.

“I just saw the body language coming back. I just didn’t like it,” Donovan said. “It was just the shoulders down, the head down. You can’t be a great competitor doing that. I’ve got to help them see that. I’ve got to help them see what they have to do. 

“Ultimately, they’ve got to make those choices as pros. But I always think there’s always something I can do to help. I haven’t been able to necessarily maybe get them in that mental space to be able to overcome some of these things. I’m going to keep trying and keep working to try to help them as much as I can.”

Even in frustration, Donovan held to this truth: He’s pointed in his criticism, but willing to look inward and consider where he could have served his players better. He called it his responsibility to teach his young group winning habits. All of the above derives from a place of deep caring for the guys in the locker room.

“My heart bleeds for them,” Donovan said.

Thad Young said Donovan’s frustration mirrored players up and down the roster, but that they need to learn to channel that frustration on the court. On Friday, Donovan saw a team far from possessing the ability to do that.

“It can’t be a level of entitlement that it’s not going your way so you’re going to hang your head. Like do you think it’s just supposed to go your way? Or do you have to fight for it to go your way?” Donovan said. “And that’s what I’m looking for and that’s why I got upset. Because I didn’t think we were fighting for something that we wanted. 

“We got into this space of our shoulders and our head and our body language was not good. And that just upset me. I don’t like that. Because I think the game wasn’t over.”

When it was, it was the Bulls’ 16th loss in 21 tries against teams currently at or above .500 this season. Their minus-8 point differential in the fourth quarter moved their total fourth-quarter point differential to minus-72 on the season -- 29th in the NBA.

There’s time for statistics and tape-grinding at a later hour. For now, Donovan’s impressions are firm.

“I just didn’t like our compete or our attitude or our disposition really for that last five minutes,” he said to conclude his conference. “I just didn’t.”

RELATED: How Bulls' latest meltdown spotlights flawed roster

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