“He went off,” Taj Gibson said of Mike Dunleavy Jr., his usually mild-mannered teammate, who scored 11 points in Thursday night’s 94-82 Bulls’ win over the Celtics at the United Center.
That might not seem overly impressive, but the veteran sharpshooter's impact on his team’s fate from an emotional standpoint far outweighed his statistical contributions. After picking up a technical foul with 4:02 left in the third quarter, Dunleavy exploded — from a playing perspective, after his figurative explosion on an official for not calling a foul on a drive to the basket — as a scorer and even was a defensive force, blocking two shots on the evening.
“You know what? As Taj knows, that’s my New York state of mind. Sometimes you have to let people know when they’re messing up. Teammates, coaches, officials. With me, it doesn’t happen very often, but tonight it did and I knew Taj would be the first one to let me know about it,” he explained. “I think it got me going a little bit. Sometimes when your blood’s boiling like that, it’s good to get things off your chest. Then, you settle back in and you play well.
“I was just trying to be like [Joakim Noah], just be wild and crazy out there. It was just a moment in the game there where I think everybody had enough and we took it to another level emotionally, then played well in that stretch and it was nice to just kind of coast to a win,” the mild-mannered wing went on to say. “I’m good for one or two [technicals] a year. I make sure I always get my money’s worth and go home a happy man.”
All-Star center Noah praised Dunleavy’s effort on the evening.
“‘Dun’ made some huge plays,” Noah said. “He really got us going. That’s what we need. We need everybody to step up, everybody to play high energy, give it everything they’ve got. Our margin of error is a lot smaller with ‘Pooh’ [Derrick Rose] gone, so we need everybody giving everything they had. ‘Dun’ played great tonight.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau chimed in: “Mike makes a lot of big plays, whether it’s a rebound or a hustle play or a cut or a big three — I thought he came off and made a big play to Taj on the baseline — and those are all winning plays. He plays to win and he makes the team better when he’s on the floor, and I think we have a team full of guys like that.”
Dunleavy’s father, also named Mike, is a native of Brooklyn, just like Gibson. The former NBA player, coach and executive’s New York mentality must have rubbed off on his son a bit, according to Gibson.
Growing up, Gibson was a big fan of Dunleavy’s from his college days at Duke. When in high school, he happened to be with a group of his friends and ran into Dunleavy, already in the NBA, on the subway, or so the story goes.
“I knew he was a tough guy when I saw him on the train in New York. It was kind of late at night. He was on the train by himself,” Gibson recounted. “It was like 10 of us.
“When we saw him, we were like, ‘Yo, Dunleavy! What’s up?’ and he didn’t even get scared. He gave us a head nod and he was like, ‘What’s up?’” he continued. “I was shocked to even see him on the train. You never see NBA players on the train, especially at night.”
Dunleavy confirmed the meeting, years before they became teammates.
“We’re both not afraid to get on the subway in New York,” he said. “You run into a lot of different people, a lot of different characters and Taj Gibson is one of them.”