It’s Rockets head coach Kevin McHale is looking for a lone culprit in Houston’s 111-87 loss to the Bulls at the United Center, Chandler Parsons’ elbow would be a good place to start.
After Mike Dunleavy Jr.’s right eye was victimized by his Rockets counterpart, the veteran sharpshooter returned to the game with a vengeance Thursday night. When Parsons accidentally elbowed him in the second quarter, a gory scene ensued, with Dunleavy immediately rushing to the locker room, where he got 10 stitches before returning to start the second half.
Then, he caught fire, scoring 18 of his game-high 21 points in the third quarter after a scoreless first half. Dunleavy keyed a 16-0 Bulls run to start the period, blowing open what was a 50-42 game at the intermission, effectively ending the contest.
“It feels all right. I got hit with an elbow trying to take a charge and it happens. You hang around this league long enough, you get hit, you get some stitches here and there. But I was able to get back here quick enough and they did a pretty good job stitching me up. The doctor said I had thick skin, which I’ve heard before. But the second half, we just played well. We moved the ball, we shared it, we got good shots and we defended great,” Dunleavy explained. “It was pretty hard initially and kind of knocked me back, but once I hit the ground and realized I was bleeding, you’ve got to go to the locker room ASAP at that point. No point in hanging around the court and getting blood everywhere. So I headed back there and like I said, they did a good job of getting me cleaned up.
“I just knew that once they got the stitches done, I was coming back and it happened about halfway through halftime, so I was able to play in the second half. It was a pretty tough hit. My neck is sore and a little bit of whiplash-type stuff, so we’re a little concerned about that. But overall, like I said, I felt pretty good in the second half,” he went on to say. “You get stitched up, you come back, you play. It’s not a big deal. That’s part of the deal. As long as I could see—it was a little bit of an issue—I knew I could come back and play.”
Known as an outside shooter, Dunleavy is a tougher and more versatile player than he gets credit for. For instance, he’s become a magnet for offensive fouls, as evidenced by the charge he took early in the third quarter.
“I think the doctor was a little nervous. He just told me I should have waited a little bit longer to do that,” quipped the Duke product, who deadpans his funniest lines in postgame interviews. “I told him, ‘I had to test out your job right away, see if you’re any good.’”
The rest of the Bulls were also all smiles after the game.
“Yeah, it’s pretty nice,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said about the situation. “I’m all for it. He’s a consummate pro. He plays hard every night, gives himself up for the team. Offensively, moves great without the ball. Shares the ball, moves the ball quickly. Defensively, always sticking his nose in. Rebounding, taking charges. That’s the price of winning and that’s why he’s so valuable to our team. He came back after taking the stitches, took another charge. So to me, when you talk about toughness, that’s toughness. You have to have mental toughness, physical toughness. He has it.
“Mike doesn’t talk a lot. He comes in and said, ‘I’m good.’ I said, ‘I’m good, too, then. If you’re good, I’m good. Let’s go.’”
Carlos Boozer added: “He’s a warrior, man. He’s a warrior. A lot of guys would have took that shot and called it a night. He came back and not only did he play, but he played phenomenal. He caught fire. The way he shot the ball in the second half gave us a huge cushion and we needed it.”
Taj Gibson animatedly chimed in: “It was like a ‘Rocky’ cut. Like when Rocky was in the movie and he was telling them, ‘Cut me, man! Cut me!’ It was one of those. Everybody was like, ‘If you get hit one more time, Dun, it’s over for you,’ and he kept a smile on his face. He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to light it up.’ He did his thing.
Joakim Noah took it to the next level with another boxing comparison.
“It was very impressive and I think it inspired the team. He had a huge knot on his head, looking like [Evander] Holyfield, the white version. And just coming out there, putting on a new jersey and gutting it out in the second half, it just shows a lot of heart. It was good for Duke’s street credibility. Big time,” the All-Star center said. “Stitches and points, baby. Stitches and buckets. It was very impressive and it shows a lot about him. The character of this team. For him to get hit the way he was hit, I’ve never seen anything like that, really. Just getting rocked the way he got rocked, it was really coming down hard. Ten stitches, come back and play the second half the way he played, I like that [expletive].”
[WATCH: Dunleavy's return inspired Bulls]
Kirk Hinrich concurred: “He’s a tough guy. He got a good cut and the surprising thing was the knot. He had a pretty good knot there, but he came out and played great in the second half.
“I don’t know, maybe we’re going to have to do that to him, talk to the other team into doing that more often. He played great. But he’s been like that for us all year. He had a great second half. Competes on both ends, does a great job rebounding for us, the little things and you always know he’s going to knock down shots,” he continued. “We notice what he does as a team. He’s been huge for us all year. He’s played great. Like I said, everybody concentrates on his shooting, but he does so many other things for us.”
Dunleavy, who doesn’t gravitate to the spotlight, remained good-natured about the whole thing.
For example, when asked if he was examined for a potential concussion, he said, “Well, it depends what you mean checked. They were asking me questions and I was answering them in a way that wouldn’t lead them to believe that I had a concussion.”
And when asked if it helped his shooting touch, Dunleavy responded, “Or the hit knocked some sense in me. Whatever it was, it must have helped. It was helpful, I’m sure.”
But he was serious about whether or not it was even a question he’d return to the contest.
“Not from my standpoint. It was just a matter of how long it took them to stitch me up. So I didn’t know how long that would take. I had that happen a couple times. Sometimes it’s 10 minutes, sometimes it’s 20. It can be a while. But it got me the whole second half, which was good,” he said. “I just knew I had some blood. I knew I got hit pretty hard, so I knew I was going to have to get stitched up. So I just grabbed a towel and ran back there. Two stitches, 10 stitches, you’ve got to get that Novacaine stuff. It’s a pain in the butt.”
Did it fire him up? “Hard to say, to be honest with you. It wasn’t a malicious hit on Parsons’ part. In that case, when it is intentional, it can fire you up. But just kind of sitting back here bored, getting stitched up, I wanted to play.”
A tough guy, for sure, though Gibson revised some of the story he told earlier in the season about meeting Dunleavy, earlier in his NBA career, on a New York City subway after midnight when Gibson, a Brooklyn native, was still in high school.
“It wasn’t really midnight, but still. It wasn’t really midnight. It was night. It was at night. But he was catching the train,” he explained with a big grin. “The way he took that hit, he’s been taking hits like that all year and getting up. He’s one of the leading guys in taking charges on our team, so I wasn’t really surprised to see him hop back up and come back in after. I came in the locker room and asked him if he was okay, and he said he was fine. But when he came out, I didn’t think he was going to light it up like that. He may be quiet, but he’s one of those guys, he’ll cheap shot you. He’ll let you know that he’s here. Don’t take him for granted.”