McKinnie finds his way home, helps Bulls stay hot

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan (11) celebrates with teammate Lonzo Ball (2) after making a basket while being fouled during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, in Chicago.

    Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan (11) celebrates with teammate Lonzo Ball (2) after making a basket while being fouled during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, in Chicago. Associated Press

  • Chicago Bulls forward Javonte Green (24) goes up to shoot against Houston Rockets forward Jae'Sean Tate (8) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, in Chicago.

    Chicago Bulls forward Javonte Green (24) goes up to shoot against Houston Rockets forward Jae'Sean Tate (8) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, in Chicago. Associated Press

  • Chicago Bulls guard Coby White (0) goes up to shoot during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, in Chicago.

    Chicago Bulls guard Coby White (0) goes up to shoot during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, in Chicago. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 12/20/2021 10:34 PM

Recent Bulls addition Alfonzo McKinnie has something in common with many young Bulls fans. He's a West Side native, so he's always watched the team closely.

"I remember being in the house with my grandmother and I used to try to rush to the TV to catch the intro for the Bulls game," McKinnie said. "I always thought the Bulls had the dopest intro.

 

"Even now, standing out there on the court and hearing the intro and seeing the bull running through the other team's bus and stuff like that, that's something I remember being excited to see as a kid."

McKinnie took it to another level by watching intros while wearing a Bulls uniform. On Monday at the United Center, he helped spark a strong performance by the bench in a 133-118 victory over Houston.

The Bulls (19-10) scored a season-high 66 points off the bench. Coby White led the way with a season-high with 24 points, McKinnie added 16 and two-way player Tyler Cook scored 11. On Sunday, 37-year-old Carmelo Anthony single-handedly outscored the Bulls bench.

Already missing Zach LaVine and a few others, the Bulls lost forward Alex Caruso in the first quarter due to a left mid-foot sprain.

"Certainly when Alex went down we were incredibly short-handed because he plays so many different positions for us," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. "It's good to see those guys' hard work get rewarded."

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McKinnie was an original Windy City Bull in 2016-17, making the team out of a tryout camp. He never got the call-up from the Bulls that season, but made his NBA debut a year later with Toronto and got a full-time job in Golden State for the 2018-19 season, appearing in all six NBA Finals games that season.

He played for Cleveland and the Lakers during the next two seasons. This year, he was playing for the G-League's new team in Mexico City when the call to return home finally arrived.

"I actually was in Greensboro (N.C.)," he said. "Early morning I was laying in bed and my agent called and he was like, 'What you doing?' I'm chilling.

"He's like, 'Oh, how'd you like to go to Miami with the Bulls?' I'm like, 'Heck yeah.' I was just so excited. I think my mom is the first person I called. My mom and my best friend. It was honestly a dream come true."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Originally signed as a hardship roster exception when the Bulls had so many players in health and safety protocols, McKinnie signed a second 10-day contract Monday.

"I'm a West Side kid, I grew up on the West Side of Chicago, like 10-15 minutes down the way," he said. "The house was a Bulls house, watched the Bulls growing up. So just being able to come out and compete on the highest stage in my hometown on my favorite side of the city, the West Side, it's been surreal to be honest. Putting that jersey it's meant everything to me."

The Bulls jumped out to a 9-0 lead, but the advantage was down to 15-13 when McKinnie checked in and drained a pair of 3-pointers in the first minute he was on the court.

The last time the Bulls saw the Rockets, Houston snapped a 15-game losing streak, picking up just their second win of the season on Nov. 24. It wasn't a fluke, though, since the Rockets went on to win seven in a row. They've cooled off slightly, but are still 9-4 since that 1-16 start.

After having a week off and two games canceled, the Bulls had to come back and play back-to-back nights against the Lakers and Rockets.

"What they did on a back-to-back to me was really impressive," Donovan said. "Not that we were perfect, but just the focus, the concentration. Even the Lakers game where we got behind and it wasn't going well and the third quarter was a struggle, just the ability to keep fighting and playing. I really respect and appreciate how they've handled everything that's been thrown at them so far this year."

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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