While the Bulls are without Zach LaVine for the time being, they caught a break with the Celtics missing Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Robert Williams and Evan Fournier on Monday night in Boston. Jayson Tatum (ankle) and Jaylen Brown (illness) did play after showing up on the injury report for this game, so the Celtics did still have their two best players. After an ugly first half, Chicago actually took advantage of Boston’s shortcomings to gut out a 102-96 victory to make it two wins in a row.
Things certainly got precarious down the stretch when the Celtics hit back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the game at 90-90 with just over three minutes to play, but it was the Bulls who came up big when it mattered. Nikola Vucevic immediately responded with a huge bucket to give him his game-high 29 points on the night, and then he helped seal the lane for a Coby White layup moments later to make it a four-point game. After a Jayson Tatum miss (one of many on the night), Patrick Williams scored on the other end to cap the 6-0 run that effectively decided the game. White finished the game off at the free-throw line with four clutch freebies.
The Bulls stepped up defensively down the stretch, forcing multiple turnovers as part of a strong effort that saw them rack up 11 steals and eight blocks. Even White came up with a big steal on a lazy pass by Tatum, who recorded one of the worst triple-doubles (his first ever) you’ll ever see. Tatum finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists but shot 3-of-17 from the field and committed five turnovers, with a number of bad plays coming late. Garrett Temple and the Bulls did a nice job sticking with Tatum, but he didn’t help himself with a lot of bad decisions and extremely off-target shots.
In addition to Vucevic’s big night, White shook off a bad first half to finish with 19 points and seven assists. Temple had a solid all-around game with 13 points, four rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Thaddeus Young was the only other Bull in double figures with 13 points off the bench. The Bulls’ offense certainly wasn’t always pretty in this one, but they did rack up 30 assists and got up 13 more shot attempts thanks to hustle and defense. Chicago had 18 second chance points to just four for Boston while also scoring nine more points off turnovers (16-7). This propelled the Bulls to the win after a terrible beginning to the game.
The Celtics ran out to a quick 9-0 start, making it seem like this could get ugly early. Brown hit his first six shots (he was pretty quiet afterward and was dealing with an arm issue in addition to his illness), but Vucevic responded and helped keep the Bulls in it. Chicago trailed by just six points at the end of the first quarter despite Boston shooting 13-of-19 from the field, with six Celtics turnovers helping to mitigate that hot shooting.
The Bulls’ bench had a prime opportunity to cut into the deficit to start the second against an all-bench Celtics unit that looked real ugly on paper, but the two reserve groups essentially played each other even. It then felt liked Boston was about to blow Chicago out after a Jabari Parker dunk (Luke Kornet put Lauri Markkanen on a poster in the first quarter) made it 44-32 with 4:33 remaining in the half.
Instead, the Celtics went into cruise control to end the half, managing just a single point over about four minutes until Payton Pritchard buried a 3-pointer on their last possession. Vucevic then responded with a bucket on the other end to make it 48-42 at the break, giving him 17 points on 8-of-15 shooting as he put the Bulls on his back to keep them in it. Non-Vucevic Bulls shot just 10-of-32 in the opening half, and they were lucky Boston went into its own funk in that second quarter as both teams managed only 18 second-quarter points.
Vucevic continued to do work to start the third quarter, hitting a pair of 3s as the Bulls’ offense finally got going. Coby White woke up after his atrocious first half (1-of-7 shooting) with 10 points in the quarter. The Bulls took their first lead of the game at 66-64 and closed the frame on a 13-2 run to take a 74-66 advantage into the fourth, shooting 13-of-22 in third to do it.
Chicago controlled the start of the fourth quarter but couldn’t run away, and it looked like Boston was going to retake the lead midway through the quarter. The Celtics badly botched a fast-break attempt, though, with Temple then hitting a triple on the other end and Vucevic then scoring again to create a bit of separation. This set up the final stretch that saw Boston make one last push before Chicago finished them off for good.
The Bulls are now 24-33 on the season and sit in 10th place again, though the Wizards won again to keep pace. There’s a very winnable back-to-back coming up later this week against the Cavaliers and Hornets, so we’ll see if they can keep the good vibes going without LaVine as they battle for this play-in spot. And don’t look now, but they’re only two games back of the Pacers, who just lost Myles Turner for an extended time.