Winners of four consecutive games — and five of their last six — the Boston Celtics are finally starting to look like the team we all envisioned them to be this past summer. An offense that has been mired in mediocrity for much of the year is suddenly firing on all cylinders; the Celtics haven’t scored fewer than 113 points in any game during the run, and they lead the NBA in net rating (+15.2) over that span of time.
The schedule has helped, of course. Though they’ve scored impressive wins over the playoff-hopeful New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves, the other three have come against teams more concerned with Zion Williamson than playing basketball in May: the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks. Now, they’ll travel to Chicago to face another struggling lottery contender, the Chicago Bulls.
A relatively easy schedule is worth discussing when it comes to the Celtics’ resurgence, but to their credit, the team has done exactly what good teams should do against bad ones: roll their way to comfortable blowout wins. That trend continued this past Thursday, as they thoroughly demolished the Knicks on their way to a 28-point victory.
Notably, the Knicks game marked a return to the lineup for Jaylen Brown, who had missed the Celtics’ last three games with a back injury and subsequently seen an ostensible demotion from the starting lineup to the bench. Brown has had arguably the worst start to the season of any Celtic, with the lowest net rating on the team (-1.0), but you wouldn’t have known it based on his return: he scored 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting (including 7-of-9 from the free throw line) and attacked the rim with gusto.
Tonight’s rematch against the defensively challenged Bulls will be a good opportunity to keep his momentum alive. During the teams’ last meeting in November, Brown had one of his better performances of the year, scoring 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting and hitting a pair of threes. Including Brown, six Celtics would score at least 10 points in the contest, on the way to a 111-82 victory.
For the Chicago’s part, things have been looking bleak — or, I guess, hopeful, depending on your priorities. Though they scored a surprise upset over the Oklahoma City Thunder last night, it was just their third win in the past 15 games. The Bulls weren’t expected to be a particularly competitive team to begin with, but injuries haven’t helped the issue; the team lost three-point specialist Denzel Valentine for the season and will likely face the Celtics without guard Kris Dunn or forward Bobby Portis, as well. One rare bright spot: 2017 first-rounder Lauri Markkanen finally returned from an elbow sprain last weekend against the Rockets.
The Celtics will not have Aron Baynes tonight after a sprained knee that knocked him out of Thursday’s game, but Kyrie Irving, who looked to have tweaked his shoulder late in the contest, is reportedly fine and will start. After tonight, the Celtics will return home to Boston for a rematch with Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday.
PG - Kyrie Irving — Ryan Arcidiacono
SG - Marcus Smart — Zach LaVine
SF - Jayson Tatum — Justin Holiday
PF - Marcus Morris Sr — Lauri Markkanen
C - Al Horford — Wendell Carter Jr.
Boston — Aron Baynes (knee), Jabari Bird (personal)
Chicago — Kris Dunn (knee), Bobby Portis (knee), Denzel Valentine (ankle)
How to Watch
Time – 8:00 PM EST
TV – NBC Sports Boston