Coming off of a three-point victory over the Indiana Pacers last night, the Celtics headed to Chicago for their first back-to-back of the season, looking to hand the Bulls their second loss and improve to .500.
Both sides were shorthanded, as the Celtics were without Rajon Rondo while he gets a screw removed from his surgically repaired hand, and of course, Marcus Smart will be out for the next two or three weeks with a sprained ankle. On the other end, Derrick Rose has now missed four of the last five games nursing sprains to both ankles.
While the Celtics played with energy on the defensive end, the Bulls simply had a rough first half in terms of shooting the ball. Brad Stevens' troops did an excellent job of taking advantage of that, as they rebounded well and attacked as a team out in transition off of Chicago's empty possessions. Even the bigs were running hard end to end.
Much of the first half was back-and-forth as both sides traded runs, but the Celtics surged to put together a 27-8 run to close their 36-point second quarter, helping them to a 56-41 lead at halftime.
Coming out of the locker room, the Celtics picked up right where they left off and got great minutes out of a lot of different guys. Boston increased their lead to as many as 19 and shot 60% in the third quarter.
The Bulls fought back and cut the lead to single digits with about three minutes to go, and you can thank Aaron Brooks for leading the charge. In crunch time, Brooks had the biggest sequence of his tremendous outing by knocking down a corner three-ball to make it a two-possession game. The next two Chicago possessions, Brooks buried another triple and then drew a foul on the perimeter to get to the free throw line for two free throws.
With one minute to go, a once 19-point deficit had transformed into a one-possession game. These kinds of moments are pivotal for the growth of a team - tight situations in crunch time on the road. Can you hold your lead and make the big plays down the stretch? Can you keep your composure?
Brooks put another one home off the window, putting him at 19 points in the fourth quarter alone, but the Celtics buckled down and made big plays in big moments. Four clutch free throws and Kelly Olynyk's two late rebounds in heavy traffic sealed the deal for the green, as they earned their second straight win and improve to 3-3.
For a team that was missing its top two point guards, the Celtics looked pretty good offensively tonight in Chicago. They got a lot of good things out of the pick n' roll, committed just eight turnovers throughout the last three quarters and gave Tom Thibodeau's defense fits with their spacing and crisp ball movement. Evan Turner has had a pretty up-and-down going as an experimental point guard, but he did a terrific job filling in for Rondo tonight. Turner was especially effective in transition and tallied 19 points, five rebounds, six assists and only one turnover in his best game as a Celtic so far.
Tyler Zeller is another newcomer that had his best performance in the green and white, as the seven footer made as much of an impact as anyone from Boston's productive bench brigade this evening. Zeller was in constant motion offensively, was active in the paint on both ends, was efficient at the rim, set a lot of good picks and finished with 10 points, seven boards and four assists. Lead by Marcus Thornton's 11, the Boston bench scored 32 points and really did a great job of maintaining the rhythm the Celtics had established as a unit.
Chicago got a heck of a lot out of their bench, as well, highlighted by an enormous 26-point, eight-assist night from Aaron Brooks. You're not going to find many backup point guards that can play at a higher level, and he was remarkable when his team needed him most. The Bulls had some rough offensive stretches, and Brooks answered the call by dropping 19 in the fourth quarter and giving the Bulls a chance to win.
The Celtics showed a lot of poise tonight and have really started to figure out how to play as a cohesive unit. It was great to see the green step into the United Center and earn a victory, which is not an easy task with or without Derrick Rose.
Let's hope this kind of efficient collective attack will continue.
Player of the Game
18 points, 11 rebounds, 6-9 FG, 2-4 3FG
The Celtics will be back at the Garden on Wednesday night, where they'll host the banged up Oklahoma City Thunder in Rajon Rondo's expected return to action.