By Cody Westerlund-
CHICAGO (CBS) – As Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy sat in the locker room receiving 10 stitches in the second quarter of his team’s 111-87 win against the Rockets on Thursday at the United Center, he had but one emotion.
“I was bored back here,” Dunleavy said. “I wanted to play.”
This was typical Dunleavy. He’s among the more low-key players on the Bulls. He’s neither the emotional leader (Joakim Noah) nor the underdog revelation (D.J. Augustin). He’s neither a lightning rod for criticism (Carlos Boozer) nor a fan favorite (Taj Gibson, Jimmer Fredette). He’s typically on the floor in crunch time, but he’s not a go-to guy.
Dunleavy’s really just there, out of your consciousness, doing his job.
Only when the blood literally starts gushing, as it did Thursday when Dunleavy simultaneously drew a charge and took an incidental elbow from Chandler Parsons that opened up a nasty cut above his right eye, does the casual observer begin to notice him.
“You hang around this league long enough, you get hit, you get some stitches here and there,” Dunleavy said.
“The hit probably knocked a little sense into me.”
It was easy to see why Dunleavy wanted back in the game so much. He’s been hanging in the NBA for years, 12 now to be exact, and never has he been a part of a team that finished above .500. A national champion at Duke, Dunleavy has played in only nine career playoff games, winning just one – with the 2010-’11 Pacers, who lost in five games to the Bulls in the first round.
Finally, Dunleavy is now part of a winning team, even if it is just the limited, 36-29 Bulls who have feasted on weak Eastern Conference competition. He starts and is in the mix each and every night, and harm’s way is a hazard he’ll happily accept so long as it presents opportunity like Thursday, when he returned to the court after a scoreless first half and sparked the Bulls with 21 second-half points, a smoldering 18 of them in the third quarter as Chicago took control.
“He’s got a huge knot on his head, looking like (Evander) Holyfield, the white version,” Noah said.
“Gutting it out in the second half, it was good for Duke’s street credibility.”
With Dunleavy, you know what you’re getting. He has and probably always will be considered a steady marksman who can be exploited on the defensive end (his defensive wins shares the past two seasons were a paltry 0.9 and 1.7, although he had the misfortune of playing with the Bucks in accumulating such statistics), but in the first season of a two-year, $6-million with the Bulls, he’s been a key ingredient in the playoff push without the franchise star.
Dunleavy’s averaging 10.9 points on shooting 37 percent from deep, which is his career average, while being solid defensively as Jimmy Butler guards the foe’s premier perimeter player.
“He’s a consummate pro,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “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, taking charges. And that’s the price of winning, and that’s why he’s so valuable to our team.”
Dunleavy paid his price in blood, a shiner and a knot Thursday. Upon returning, he quickly took a charge early in the third quarter, later joking to team medical personnel, “I had to test out your job right away.”
It’s these actions that have never gone unnoticed inside the locker room, Kirk Hinrich said. For even if Mike Dunleavy is a completely unremarkable player and devoid of flash, that just means he fits in with this troupe.
“I’m going to be pretty banged up, but that’s the way us Irish people do it,” Dunleavy said.
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.