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Boston Celtics ride their reserves to a late-season win over short-handed Chicago Bulls

What injuries? The Celtics hung tough for a 111-104 win over the Bulls.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks
Celtics swingman Jaylen Brown led his team with a career-high 32 points in Boston’s win over Chicago.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON—With starters Al Horford (rest) and Jayson Tatum (rest) adding to the large assembly of Celtics players in street clothes instead of uniforms, Jaylen Brown notched a career-high 32 points (4 rebounds, 2 assists) to lead the Boston Celtics to a 111-104 win over the Chicago Bulls. Greg Monroe was critical to the win, pouring in a triple-double-worthy 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists.

The winning effort was accented by fireworks from two-way player Jabari Bird (15 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) and recent pickup Jonathan Gibson (9 points).

For any other team, watching relative unknowns make highlight plays would’ve felt like watching the game from another dimension, but it felt like routine next-player-up stuff for a Celtics team saddled with so many injuries since the All-Star Break.

For a moment in the first quarter, Chicago looked deadly. They knocked down their first three attempts from beyond the arc, and spread the scoring around for a 13-9 lead.

Then Jaylen Brown put the Celtics right back in the game, pouring in 12 of his team-high 32 points in less than five minutes of game play. Guerschon Yabusele also made his presence felt early with a pair of impressive blocks at the rim.

Even with Boston’s young swingmen putting up highlights early, Chicago stayed level by making 4 of 6 from behind the arc. At the end of the first quarter, the teams were knotted 30-30.

Greg Monroe paired up Shane Larkin—back after missing a short stint of games—and two-way contract man Jabari Bird early in the second quarter, running the passing lanes and finishing nicely at the rim. Monroe had six of his 10 assists in his first ten minutes. The Celtics big man help Bird to a career-high 15, 13 of which he had before halftime.

In spite of some nice play-making from the Boston reserves, Chicago kept shooting the lights out, forcing the Celtics to challenge shooters on the perimeter and leaving the paint exposed. Coach Brad Stevens sent Boston big man Aron Baynes back in the game at the seven-minute mark of the second quarter, trying to shore up the interior defense.

Bird notched his first assist three minutes before halftime when he fired a pass to Brown in the corner for a much-needed three. Brown’s make put the team at 4-14 from behind the arc, while Chicago still sat pretty at 6 for 10. Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen made it 7 of 11 when he hit another inside of a minute left in the first half to put his team up 56-51.

Three possession later, Marcus Morris fielded a long inbounds pass from Monroe and lined up a buzzer beater, closing the Chicago lead to 58-55 at the half.

Morris also the second half with some heroics, snagging the ball away from David Nwaba and dishing to Yabusele for a layup on the break. Two possessions later (and after a nimble block from Baynes) Brown retook the lead at 60-58 with his third corner three. After a Stevens timeout a few minutes later at 69-67, Brown had another bucket from behind the arc led all scorers on both teams with 23 points.

Bulls guard Cameron Payne canned his third three and marked the game’s fifteenth lead change for the Bulls, but Rozier quickly made it sixteen changes with his own bucket from downtown to make it 72-20.

With 1:44 left in the third quarter and coming back from a break, Bobby Portis and Marcus Morris shortened the bench for both teams. After jawing at each other before an inbounds pass, the two were assessed double technicals twice—four fouls before the ball even came in—and promptly ejected.

As time expired in the third the Celtics clung to a three-point lead, 79-76. Monroe continued his strong performance headed into the fourth, helping keep the Bulls at arms length before the final frame.

Late-season recruit Jonathan Gibson drilled his first three as a Celtics for an 84-81 lead early in the fourth. He had his second trey a minute, playing trailer for Monroe who dished back to Gibson behind the line on the break. Gibson’s make put the Celtics up 89-86 with less than nine minutes to play.

As the Bulls three-point percentage floated slowly back to earth, hovering at 50% around the eight-minute mark, the Celtics seemed to find a rhythm when Semi Ojeleye knocked down a corner three for a 95-90 lead. Monroe got his ninth bucket and hit the double-double mark to make it 99-90 two minutes later, and hit Jaylen Brown for another corner three shortly after to snag a triple double.

Ryan Arcidiacono hit his own three to stifle the Boston crowd and close the gap to 102-98, but Bird put up another highlight play on the next Celtics defensive possession, flying down the court for a chase-down block.

The TD Garden lit up when Brown found a cutting Ojeleye for a thunderous dunk to make it 104-98. Bird came charging down the court off a Celtics steal on the next possession, turned, and hit Brown for his sixth three-pointer.

The Celtics hung onto the lead as the Bulls cooled off from beyond the arc, ending a two-game losing streak and putting on a show with all but one of their best five on the bench.

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