Look, we’re not gonna talk much about the last meeting between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls, because it sucked. Super duper ultra mega sucked. Instead, we’ll focus on—oh, to hell with it; KILL THEM COWS, BOYS. And kill them they did. The contest was close at the half but our heroes blew it open in the 3rd for revenge that was sweeter than dulce de leche.
THE GAME FLOW
The Cs, and many fans, underestimated the baby Bulls in that first matchup (or at least underestimated the furious fervor with which Nikola Mirotic wants to ruin the Chicago front office’s tanking plans). Brad Stevens would not make that mistake again, nor would his team. You saw urgency in their play that wasn’t there that first game right away.
Boston started fairly hot from the field. Kyrie Irving got the most early work done, as expected, but the Cs spread offensive contributions around the lineup. (His diving and driving moves to fake out Bulls defenders and get the ball to Aron Baynes in the post for a post bucket were goddamn fantastic.) Chicago, however, maintained the inspired play they’ve put in for the last half-dozen games and stayed neck-and-neck with the home team—which I’ll take, given how hideous things were the last time around. The Bulls have the attribute of pesky length, with guys like Lauri Markannen, Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis, that the Milwaukee Bucks often use to considerable success. Chi’s fault is found in the execution, usually, but they give the Celtics fits.
(The Mirotic/Portis teamwork thing is growing more ridiculous by the game. They’re working together to destroy these teams they’ve been improbably beating, which makes no sense for so many reasons. They must have some sort of secret pact that defies personal hatred and, possibly, psychopathic delusions.)
ANYWAY. Perhaps the biggest reason for Chicago’s relative success against the Cs during the first half—they never established a huge lead, and generally were down by a handful of points—was their markedly superior rebounding on the offensive end. For all the Celtics’ rebounding improvements this year, boards on the offensive glass remain something of a difficult proposition. Robin Lopez, in particular, has been the face of this annoyance. (Excuse my French but I have to quote Locked on Celtics mainstay Jam Packard here: “That Sideshow Bob-lookin’ motherfucker.”)
Beyond Portis, Markannen and the glasswork of Lopez, the Bulls didn’t present too much of an offensive threat in the first two frames of the game. Irving and Jaylen Brown did enough heavy lifting as scorers and playmakers to stay above water despite the damage done by Chicago, allowing Boston to bring a narrow 60-58 lead into the half.
The third quarter began with some earnest “I’m sick of this crap” counterpunch from Boston against the Bulls’ audacious threats: Brown and Al Horford bullied through the paint to rack up layups and free-throw opportunities, and three minutes in had the squad up by 8. This time, it seemed as if the Bulls had gotten cocky and weren’t prepared to put up stops. Jaylen hit a trey and Baynes did his wreckage near the basket, and the Celtics had their first double-digit lead.
Once the smell of Chicago blood started to fill the Celtics’ nostrils, it started to get real ugly for the Bulls and my oh my did it feel good. Irving and Brown continued to handle the most scoring, but they didn’t neglect teammates. Jaylen, in particular, helped Jayson Tatum, quiet for much of the first half, orchestrate a steal and light-speed transition run straight from the 7-seconds-or-less playbook, passing back and forth so Jaylen could set Jayson up for the eventual highlight-reel smash.
Strong involvement from the two Jays was Q3’s deciding factor, their play helping to fuel a lead that reached 20 within the last two minutes of that frame. It helped that Mirotic went ice cold (as he has so often during the last two seasons) and Portis, surprise surprise, is not exactly going to fuel any team on his own. The frame ended up being the highest-scoring quarter the Celtics have put in all season, with 38 points amassed. (To his credit, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg smartly put their true prize rookie, Markannen, on ice once the frame entered blowout realm; Thibodeau would never.)
As the fourth quarter began, it became clear to me that the Bulls had, in the simple course of this game, reverted from the chariot they’d posed as for the last seven or eight games to the pumpkin that they were. Everything went to shit for Chicago as it had for so many of their early games. Boston, not taking anything for granted, continued to pour on the punishment, with Daniel Theis and Marcus Smart putting in solid work from the bench. (Theis, in particular, almost single-handedly helped rescue the Celtics’ rebounding.)
Kyrie in particular seemed to remember the stench of that defeat a few weeks ago, and wasn’t going to stay out of the game despite having established a lead greater than 20 points. He was mad as hell about that loss and NOT GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE, but by the time the last six minutes of the game were starting, Kyrie had just nailed a triple and 100 percent could rest, the blowout secure. Chicago brought Markannen in for some seasoning but no expectations and let their 10-15 men—Christiano Feliciano, Quincy Pondexter, Paul Zipser—play out the string. Boston let Terry Rozier and rookie Kadeem Allen show off some excellent garbage-time play and seal a blowout 117-92 win.
HOT ISH: Kyrie, Jaylen and Jayson; Theis and Smart for big bench contributions; Kadeem Allen strutting his stuff (yeah it was garbage time but the dude definitely looked better than a 50-pick, y’know?)
NOT ISH: Letting Chicago get anywhere in the first half, especially with their rebounding. The Bulls aren’t as awful as we all initially thought, for sure, but they also aren’t as good as NBA Twitter has acted they are in the last week.
JAYSON to JAYLEN to JAYSOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN:
Kyrie going all Uncle Drew on a sumbitch does NOT necessarily mean scoring himself, as this exhibits: