Last year, the Chicago Bulls surprised the league, starting the season 27-11 after building a deep roster around Zach LaVine and Demar DeRozan. They looked like that dominant team for most of tonight, controlling the boards, playing physical defense, and winning 120-102.
The Celtics hit the ground running, as Tatum and Brown got open layups on the first two possessions, and the defense forced two early turnovers without relinquishing a field goal until the 7:46 mark. Al Horford missed his first three-point attempt, but Celtics proceeded to hit their next eight from deep. Every member of the starting five hit a three by the 3:30 mark as the Celtics built a 19-point lead.
Apparently, Billy Donovan didn’t get the memo that Boston runs a switching defense, as Chicago’s offense devolved into ineffective 1-on-1 play on every possession. Their bench, led by Javonte Green and Goran Dragic, flipped the momentum, sparking a 9-2 run to end the quarter, and the Celtics led 39-30 after the first period.
What initially looked like a dominant wire-to-wire thrashing inexplicably turned into the polar opposite. A Derrick Jones baseline dunk followed by a Dragic scoop layup punctuated a 16-5 run to open the second quarter. The Celtics shot 4 of 20 after their scorching 8 of 12 start.
Everyone, from Tatum to Brown to Grant, took turns driving to the hole and missing off-balance layups. After starting 8/9 from three, Boston missed 12 out of their next 13. In the last two minutes, Ayo Dosunmu splashed a three then Nikola Vucevic converted an old fashioned three-point play. Substitute play-by-play announcer Sean Grande described Boston’s 2nd quarter as “calamitous,” but Marcus Smart temporarily stopped the bleeding, hitting a layup and banking a three at the buzzer. The Celtics trailed 65-54 at half.
The Bulls went on a 49-14 run after trailing by 19 just eight minutes into the game. DeRozan scored 14 on 6/9 shooting, Vucevic had 10 points and 13 rebounds (6 offensive), and Alex Caruso was +25 in 10 minutes. Chicago abandoned their half-court sets involving DeRozan/LaVine running around multiple off-ball screens and stuck to quick-hitting two-man actions. It generated 16 second quarter points in the paint.
The 3rd quarter opened with a 12-2 Celtics run but the Bulls immediately answered with their own 13-2 run. With five minutes remaining in the quarter, Joe Mazzulla got ejected after receiving two consecutive technical fouls. He mirrored the entire team’s frustration, as everyone took turns chirping at the officials. An Andre Drummond tip-in with 10 seconds remaining — their 14th offensive rebound of the night — gave the Bulls a 100-79 lead going into the 4th.
With nine minutes to play, Grant got called for a questionable offensive foul setting a screen, then got whistled for a blocking foul the next possession. Demonstrably frustrated, he accidentally ran into an official and immediately got thrown out, joining Mazzulla in the locker room. Even if the refs lost control of the game, the Celtics lost control over their emotions.
At the 5:27 mark, acting head coach Damon Stoudamire waived the white flag, pulling the starters with the team trailing by 21. The Bulls went on to win 120-102.
On his 32nd birthday, Vucevic scored 18 points and grabbed 23 rebounds, spoiling Jaylen Brown’s 26th birthday. DeRozan finished with 25 points and 5 assists while Dosumnu scored 20 on 8/9 shooting. Boston shot 14/24 in the first quarter but finished 23/75 (31%) while getting out-rebounded 64-48.
Another year, another Celtics team that fails to go 82-0. After a few days off, they’ll head back to Boston to host the Cavaliers this Friday at 7:30 pm EST.