As if there wasn’t enough drama already, the Chicago Bulls’ season took another weird twist and this one involves coach Vinny Del Negro and executive vice president John Paxson.
It also overshadowed a crucial victory.
On a night when the Bulls boosted their playoff hopes by beating the Boston Celtics 101-93 behind Derrick Rose’s career-high 39 points, the attention centered on a report that their top executive pushed their coach during a confrontation following a game last month. "I’m not going to comment," Del Negro said. "I go about my job everyday no matter what happens. I’m a competitor. I’ve been involved in the game a long time. I love the challenge of it. All the other things that happen pretty much stay internally."
Article continues below ...
Yahoo! Sports, citing unidentified sources, reported Paxson shoved Del Negro twice in the chest and had to be restrained in a dispute after the March 30 home game against Phoenix over how much Joakim Noah played.
Paxson did not return a call from The AP seeking comment.
"This is an organizational issue, which we will handle internally," Bulls spokesman Tim Hallam said.
The "organizational issue" popped up at a time when the Bulls are trying to secure the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
They lead Toronto by a game in the Eastern Conference, thanks to Rose’s big effort and Kirk Hinrich’s season-high 30 points, and will reach the postseason with a win at Charlotte on Wednesday or a loss by the Raptors to New York.
Fourth-place Boston, meanwhile, can forget about catching Atlanta for the third seed after losing for the sixth time in nine games.
"I thought we played hard in stretches," coach Doc Rivers said. "Rose was spectacular tonight. Him and Hinrich single-handedly carried the game for them."
Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 28 points, and Ray Allen scored 25. Kevin Garnett added 14 points and nine rebounds after sitting out the previous game to rest.
"One game left and we’ve got everyone healthy going into the playoffs, which was the No. 1 goal of the season," Pierce said.
The Bulls took control with a 14-4 run to start the fourth, giving them an 81-72 lead, and hung on for a crucial victory.
Rose scored 17 in the fourth, and Hinrich added 10, including a buzzer-beating jumper that made it 95-88 with 43.7 seconds left. Rose then punctuated it with a breakaway finger roll, opting against the dunk with the crowd ready to explode, capping another wild night in a season that’s had it’s share of twists.
There were the early struggles and a lukewarm endorsement from management, fueling speculation about Del Negro’s job status. The Bulls recovered, but Noah developed plantar fasciitis in his left foot, causing him to miss 18 games and ultimately sparking the altercation that was reported on Tuesday.
According to Yahoo!, the Bulls have hired lawyers to interview witnesses about the incident.
"This is the NBA and things happen," Del Negro said. "Whether it’s in practice or a different situation, things are going to come out. You handle it. … There’s a lot of emotion involved in this game with all the things that happen on a daily basis."
According to Yahoo!, Bulls management wasn’t happy after Noah played 27 minutes against Portland on Feb. 26. He sat out the next three weeks and has seen his playing time increase since his return, yet the issue popped up again during Chicago’s double-overtime loss to New Jersey.
Noah played just 12 seconds after regulation because, Del Negro said, he had reached his 35-minute limit. Then general manager Gar Forman told reporters management had approved playing him beyond the limit because of the magnitude of the game.
"I don’t want to talk about it," Noah said. "Things happen in an organization. … I don’t think it’s fair for us as players to be talking about that stuff. It’s nothing. Really, it’s nothing."
NOTES: Rose’s previous best was 37 points. … Celtics backup G Tony Allen was sick and missed the game. … Coach Doc Rivers endorsed Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro before the game, saying, "I think he’s done a very good job." He pointed out that the Bulls pushed the Celtics to seven games in the first round of the playoffs last year, although Boston was missing Kevin Garnett. He also mentioned that Chicago lost leading scorer Ben Gordon. "I think expectations, in some ways, were almost unrealistic," Rivers said. There is widespread speculation that Del Negro will be gone after the season.