CHICAGO -- After taking a Chandler Parsons elbow right above his eye in Thursday night's second quarter, Mike Dunleavy sat inside the Chicago Bulls' locker room with 10 stitches in his face and interesting thoughts running through his head. Minutes earlier, blood poured down the side of his face and gushed to the floor as he made his way back to the locker room to be checked out. Now, the veteran sharpshooter was ready to get back in the game quickly. His eye, which had already started to swell from the collision, had a fresh bandage on it, but he didn't care.
"I was just kind of sitting back here bored," Dunleavy admitted after the Bulls' blowout victory over the Houston Rockets. "Getting stitched up wanting to play."
It's that kind of attitude that defined Dunleavy's night, and the Bulls' season in the process. Dunleavy came out in the third quarter on fire. After failing to register a point in the first half, the proud Duke alum racked up 18 points in the third quarter and finished with 21. After it was over, it seemed like each one of his teammates tried to explain Dunleavy's performance using some time of boxing reference. Taj Gibson sat on one side of the room using the old "Cut me, Mick" line from "Rocky." Joakim Noah said Dunleavy looked like Evander Holyfield after a fight.
No matter how many descriptions flowed, one thing was clear: Dunleavy, who was already well-respected in the locker room because of the way he carries himself on the floor, earned himself even more praise because of his ability to put the pain aside and help push the Bulls to an impressive win.
"Stitches and points," Noah said with a smile. "Stitches and buckets. It was very impressive and it shows a lot about the character of this team. For somebody to get hit the way he got hit, I've never seen nothing like that really. ... Ten stitches, come back and play the second half the way he played. I like that s---."
So does Tom Thibodeau.
The hard-charging coach sung Dunleavy's praises because of his attitude even more than his performance. After a rough start to the season, Dunleavy has earned Thibodeau's respect and continues to produce for a team that has counted on Dunleavy's long-range shooting and toughness.
"He's a consummate pro," Thibodeau said of Dunleavy. "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, and that's the price of winning. And that's why he's so valuable to our team. He came back after taking stitches [and] took another charge. To me, when you talk about toughness, that's toughness. You have to have mental toughness, physical toughness. He has it."
It was the charge that represented everything to Thibodeau. Dunleavy could have easily stepped aside from the contact, but that's not the way he plays the game. That's not the way most of his teammates play the game. The Bulls have built a culture that their players take pride in. They will themselves through injury and pain because they know Thibodeau demands more.
"I think the doctor was a little nervous," Dunleavy said of taking that second-half charge. "He just told me I should have waited a little bit longer to do that. And I said, 'Hey, man, I had to test out your job right away and see if you're any good.'"
The Bulls are the ones who know they're good these days. They never lost faith in themselves after a terrible game against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night -- always believing that they would turn things around soon. Every time they hit the floor they believe they can win -- a belief that didn't exist a few months ago.
"We're usually a great first-quarter team normally," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said. "San Antonio, that's not normal for us. We usually smash other teams in the mouth early. But tonight we got back to playing how we usually play and playing the style that we like to play, and hopefully we can build on that."
As for Dunleavy, he has to hope the swelling in his eye goes down so that he's ready to play Saturday night against the Sacramento Kings. After watching how he performed Thursday, his teammates don't have any doubt he'll find a way to be out there -- nobody is questioning his toughness.
"It was good for Duke's street credibility," Noah said.