CHICAGO -- It appeared to be no coincidence that on the night Mike Dunleavy showed up for the Chicago Bulls with 10 key fourth-quarter points, somebody else important in Dunleavy's development was making his presence felt as well on Monday.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was inside the United Center as Dunleavy had his best game in a Bulls uniform, helping to prevent a potential Cleveland Cavaliers rally with a pair of late field goals, including a 3-pointer, and five free throws. Chicago pulled away for a 96-81 victory.
Dunleavy is now 11 years removed from his days at Duke, but the instinct to impress his former coach remains strong.
“It’s nice having the good Duke vibes around, other than my teammates in Carlos [Boozer] and Luol [Deng],” Dunleavy said.
Those Duke vibes were strong as the entire current Blue Devils team was on hand Monday night, one day before it was scheduled to take the same United Center court for a doubleheader that also featured fellow college basketball powerhouses Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas.
Krzyzewski met with his former players before the game, while Dunleavy waited for the final 12 minutes to make his mark. He finished the night with 15 points, four rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes, finally looking like the player the Bulls thought they were getting in the offseason.
“I thought there in the third quarter there was a sequence where we got into a little bit of a rhythm and then I thought Mike did a very good job in the fourth quarter for us,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Dunleavy entered the game averaging 19 minutes and 39 percent shooting from the field, but easily squashed those numbers Monday. He was 4-of-6 from the field, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range, against Cleveland.
“I think we had a lot of guys drawing double teams and drawing attention to open up the 3-point line,” Dunleavy said. “Hopefully we’ll keep finding guys when they’re open and guys can step up and knock them down.”
Having Dunleavy coming off the bench was a big reason Thibodeau tweaked the offense to take advantage of long-range shooting. The inside-out approach to the offense isn’t new but has been emphasized even more to take advantage of the return of Derrick Rose and the improved shooting of Jimmy Butler.
It wasn’t an attractive night of shooting from the Bulls, who went 41 percent from the field and 25 percent (4-of-16) from 3-point range, but Dunleavy did his part. It took all of training camp and the first few weeks of the season, but he is finally starting to fit in with his new team.
“It’s an easy group to get along with and feel comfortable with, but you have to go out there and perform,” Dunleavy said. “I’m getting more comfortable in [the locker room] and in the United Center. I’m getting more comfortable in every which way, on both ends of the court. I just want to keep improving and help this team in any way I can.”
It might be a day off for the Bulls on Tuesday, but Dunleavy plans to spend it at the United Center anyway, watching his alma mater. After his performance Monday it should be a stress-free night. First thing Wednesday morning, though, he’ll be right back in the gym.
“He’s an ultimate professional,” Joakim Noah said about Dunleavy. “He’s been around the block a long time and you knew that was going to happen. It’s just somebody that works hard on their game every day and we have to do a good job of searching him out.”