Our Chicago Bulls’ lucky three-game winning streak was no match for the luck of the Irish tonight in TD Garden, as the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded Boston Celtics outlasted Chicago, 107-99, despite a valiant fourth quarter push from Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic.
Most disconcertingly, All-Star Bulls small forward DeMar DeRozan left the game in the third quarter with a right quadriceps strain, never to return. Here’s hoping it isn’t a lingering issue for the normally-durable 33-year-old.
As usual, the Bulls were roundly outpaced from long range by their opponent, and struggled defensively both guarding the three and containing drives.
In the first half, Chicago notably didn’t close out much on Boston’s shooters. The Bulls stayed in the game early thanks to some solid ball movement and shotmaking from the team’s role players:
Coby froze Brogdon and dished it to AC for a pic.twitter.com/ONOUoWNDRk— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 10, 2023
Though DeRozan was firing on all cylinders early (he would lead all Bulls scorers with 11 points in the first half), Zach looked tentative and uncomfortable as a scorer in the same window, especially during the game’s second quarter, when he went 0-of-4. Meanwhile, the Celtics’ two-headed perimeter monster of All-Stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were on fire early. For the half, Tatum chipped 16 points, while Brown contributed 15 points and three assists. Boston led 59-50 at halftime.
Defensive miscommunications led to some missed coverage on switches, which came back to bite the Bulls in the third quarter, as the Celtics got up to a 16-point edge at one point. At one point, Tatum scored nine straight for Boston in the third by himself (he would finish the frame with 11).
Beyond that, the third quarter was marred by DDR. DeRozan fell awkwardly midway through the frame, without contact, while being defended by Al Horford. He ultimately left for the visitors’ locker room at the 6:26 mark, and would eventually be ruled out for the night with a right quadriceps strain.
In another scary near-injury moment, reserve Bulls center Andre Drummond fell into Grant Williams while fighting for a rebound, and Drummond’s already-wonky shoulder appeared to be impacted in the scuffle. He stayed in the game and battled as he was able, but did seem to be playing through pain.
Despite the loss of arguably their best player, the Bulls were able to stay in the game till late thanks to the efforts the other two members of their “big three,” Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic.
Zach had some clever takes, as in this athletic moment when he (correctly) assumed Drummond would split his free throws:
With Jayson Tatum resting to start the fourth, the Bulls quickly cut into Boston’s lead, at one point going on a 9-0 run to get within five points (89-84), of which LaVine alone scored seven.
The Bulls really struggled with defensive rebounds tonight, letting the Celtics clean the glass seemingly at will for extra possessions (Boston had nine offensive rebounds), which helped offset Boston’s mediocre shooting for the evening (43.7% from the floor, 26.8% from deep). This sequence was particularly painful to watch:
Multiple offensive rebounds, and a Malcolm Brogdon put back Now that's Celtic basketball ☘️ pic.twitter.com/f11RC9l496— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) January 10, 2023
Despite being thoroughly outclassed by a tougher team, Zach LaVine almost singlehandedly kept Chicago alive late in the fourth with some heat-check makes.
Zach LaVine brings the Bulls to within 5 pic.twitter.com/MijCVjCr9O— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 10, 2023
At the two-minute warning, Zach Attack helped cut Chicago’s deficit to within two points thanks to a tough pull-up over 6’9” Celtics power forward Al Horford.
LaVine finished with 15 points in the fourth quarter alone. Vucevic and LaVine at one point accounted for 22 straight Bulls points down the stretch.
But a surprise victory sans DeMar in the clutch was ultimately not to be.
During a critical defensive possession in the final minute of regulation, an Alex Caruso/Patrick Williams double-team on Jayson Tatum left Al Horford wide open in the corner (with Nikola Vucevic struggling to close out in time). Tatum hit him for a corner triple that more or less iced the game, putting Boston up five with 24 seconds left:
The Bulls had an opportunity to get within a possession with the shot clock turned off, but LaVine clanged another pull-up triple attempt, Chicago once again couldn’t clear the rebound, and Jayson Tatum sprinted out for an and-one layup.
“They don’t want to see the Bulls,” Stacey King told Adam Amin on the broadcast with the Bulls’ fate sealed. It sounded like he was trying to convince himself as much as anyone else. Assuming the Bulls do nothing at the trade deadline (which is their custom), I’m actually pretty sure that the Celtics would love to see the Bulls in the spring.
LaVine finished with a team-most 27 points on 10-of-24 shooting (but just 4-of-13 from deep), seven rebounds and six dimes, a steal, and a -12 plus-minus. Vucevic scored 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting (3-of-6 from deep), grabbed 13 rebounds, had just one assist, and notched a team-worst -18 plus-minus. Only two other Bulls, DeRozan and Williams, scored in double figures.
On the Boston side, Tatum wrapped up with a game-high 32 points on 10-of-21 shooting, while Brown had 19. The Celtics enjoyed massive advantages in fastbreak points (11-3) and bench scoring (34-22).
With the loss, Chicago falls to a “meh” 19-22 record on the season and the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics, conversely, have built out their lead at the top of the Eastern Conference standings to 1.5 games over the second-seeded Brooklyn Nets.
Things will lighten up considerably Wednesday, when Chicago concludes its mini-East Coast road trip against the lowly Washington Wizards.