Kyrie Irving sat out this season’s third and penultimate contest between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls with a bum left knee. So it would be on Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and the bench mob to defeat the bad and rebuilding (but frisky, as we’ve seen) baby Bulls. Shane Larkin somewhat surprisingly took the start over Terry Rozier, but it turned out not to matter much; it certainly didn’t hurt.
The Celtics established a 20-point lead within the first few minutes of the game and the Bulls didn’t challenge or change that until the fourth quarter. At various points between, the advantage reached well above 30, thanks to Bulls’ shooting ineptitude and general inexperience but also the preparedness and versatility of the Cs bench. Boston cruise-controlled into a 105-89 win that wasn’t anywhere near as close as that final figure suggests.
THE GAME FLOW
Boston established reasonable, if not total, control over the game early on. (By “not total,” I mean, Lauri Markannen might be talented but he shouldn’t be blocking Aron Baynes at the rim like some sorta caucasoid Mutumbo. Oh well.) Recognizing the considerable lack of size and depth in the Chicago frontcourt, Brad Stevens had his team driving hard to the basket on the majority of offensive possessions in the first quarter, and Markannen block notwithstanding, it paid off. Every single Celtics starter, including Larkin and Baynes put good work in on both ends, and by 4:39, the squad had a 24-5 lead without having made a single lineup substitution.
Right after I typed that, Stevens subbed Terry Rozier in for Larkin and the Bulls started scoring again almost 5 bucketless minutes, which is just hysterical. But the sizable advantage the Celtics established didn’t change much, turning out as 35-16 by the quarter’s end.
A lead that size allows wiggle room for lineup experimentation. Which is exactly what Stevens used it for, trying an extra-big bench lineup highlighted by Greg Monroe, Marcus Morris and Daniel Theis, plus a Marcus Smart/Rozier backcourt. This led to some sloppiness—mostly on the offensive end; defense remained sound and (along with their own ineptitude) kept the Bulls from scoring for most of the second quarter’s first five minutes. However, that November defeat at the hands of this weirdo-ragtag Bulls team will forever remain in my brain, and that of most Celtics fans, so the Cs not scoring much of their own during that stretch didn’t reassure me one bit.
Boston got enough buckets after that initial weird stretch of the second quarter thanks to Horford (who passed 10,000 career points tonight), Brown and Tatum, putting further separation between themselves and Chicago and assuaging my fears somewhat. (BUT NOT ENTIRELY. YOU DON”T DANCE ON A GRAVE UNTIL YOU’RE SURE THE MELONFARMER IS DEAD.) On the Bulls side of things, the squad looked almost entirely inept, shooting 28 percent and only getting much life from Markannen, Denzel Valentine and the neverending Kris Dunn Bounceback Jamboree. Boston led by 24, 55-29, at the halftime buzzer.
Things didn’t change much for the start of the second half. Though Markannen nailed some tough shots right after the third-quarter buzzer and Portis showed off some of his crazy-eyed brawn, Jaylen and Horford continued to pound the Bulls into bloody hamburger. Even the not insignificant number of turnovers Boston made during this third frame (five of the 12 total through three Qs occurred during that third Q) didn’t hurt them much with Chicago playing this horribly, and the Celtics lead had ballooned to 33 when the Q3 buzzer went off with the score 86-53 Boston.
Seeing as the fourth quarter was a borderline foregone conclusion, Stevens went full bench mob for the lineup. Monroe got more much-needed tick to keep him fresh (though he performed quite well against the Rockets), and Rozier, Morris, SMARF and Abdel Nader rounded out the unit. The Bulls had been doing that basically the whole game, of course, but things were now so bad for Fred Hoiberg’s team that we got ourselves a CAMERON PAYNE SIGHTING. And he even scored actual points! Signs and wonders. Not surprisingly, the Boston fellas slacked off somewhat, but not much—their lead just dropped from 30-something to 20-something. It even—GASP—got under 20 in the final minutes due to garbage-time buckets from Jerian Grant and Cristiano Felicio, but no matter. This was a much-needed W two days before a big game in Minnesota this coming Thursday.
HOT ISH: Horford is no stranger to being a team’s leader, which is exactly what he served as in this game, not taking a ton of shots but making almost all of them for 13 points and creating opportunities for others using the full breadth of his skill set. (Go hug a fuckin’ octopus, WEEI stooges.) Brown proved more than capable as the squad’s scoring leader and overall second-in-command, and the bench performed well as a full unit.
NOT ISH: Good of the Cs to save some of their most egregious turnovers of the season for a game where they had a 20-30 point cushion, but a few of em…yeesh.
Larkin doesn’t get a lot of play in this section, so what better time than now:
Tatum hitting Markannen with the shake-and-bake:
And last but not least, SMARF COMBAT MUSCLES IN FULL EFFECT WITH A TOUCH OF COBRA KAI: