The Bulls recently smashed the Celtics at the United Center, but Boston didn’t have the services of Kyrie Irving in that surprising smackdown. The Celtics had their star point guard when the two teams faced off in Boston on Saturday night, and the difference was palpable.
Irving dominated the point guard matchup with Kris Dunn and helped turn a competitive game into a blowout in the second half of a 117-92 Bulls loss. Irving had 25 points (9-15 shooting, 5-7 from 3), seven assists and was a plus-33, while Dunn only made one of his 12 shots and was a minus-29.
This game packed a ton of regression for the Bulls after their recent hot streak, though they did play well for a half. They scored 58 first-half points as the offense hummed again, with Bobby Portis scoring 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting and at least two flexes. The Bulls also racked up 17 first-half assists after going over 30 assists in each of the last two games.
But while the Bulls were scoring at will, so too were the Celtics. Boston was due for a strong performance on its home floor after two ugly losses in a row, and Irving and Co. delivered. The Celtics put up 60 points of their own in the first half to take a two-point lead into the break.
Then things got ugly in the third quarter. While the Bulls were able to answer Celtics runs in the first half, the offense finally hit a prolonged cold spell while Boston couldn’t miss. The Celtics outscored the Bulls 38-18 in the third quarter as Boston’s starters flexed their own muscles. Irving ran the show brilliantly, while youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum made their own significant contributions. Brown in particular had a big night after missing the last game with an injury, going for 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting while adding five rebounds and three assists.
All five Celtics starters scored in double figures, and Aron Baynes’ plus-17 mark was the lowest out of the five players. Boston’s bench was a bit uneven, with Marcus Smart throwing up his customary bricks, but rookie Daniel Theis made his impact felt with 10 points and 15 rebounds.
Meanwhile, the Bulls managed just 34 second-half points and wound up under 40 percent shooting for the game. Portis didn’t make a shot in the second half after his hot start, while Dunn, Lauri Markkanen and Nikola Mirotic combined to shoot 1 of 12 as the game got out of hand.
Mirotic had his first game in single digits since only scoring six points in his season debut against the Hornets. He shot 3 of 10 and took a bevy of difficult shots, though he somehow still managed to finish the game a plus-3 (which means nothing).
David Nwaba and Jerian Grant both scored in double figures off the bench, but all 10 of Grant’s points came in the extended gar-bage time that was the fourth quarter. By scoring only 92 points, the Bulls failed to reach the century mark for the first time since their collapse against the Pacers before the seven-game winning streak.
The Bulls were due for a game like this. While they have legitimately been playing really well lately, they’ve also been playing at an unsustainable rate given their talent level. I was impressed by how they played in the first half, but the magic ran out in the second half. That had as much to do with the Celtics as the Bulls, though.
With the Bulls in a rebuilding year, they’re off for Christmas and will be back in action on Tuesday in Milwaukee, where they just pulled off an upset over the Bucks. Chicago will try to avoid a third straight loss.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everybody at Blog a Bull!