It’s been an odd month for the Boston Celtics. After starting off red-hot on the offensive end, they’ve cooled off in a major way. From the start of the year through December 7, they laid claim to a 119.9 offensive rating - the best in the league by a landslide. But since then, their efficiency has tailed off. Their offensive rating has been 112.2 since then, which is 23rd in the NBA over that span.
Their offensive struggles have led to some subpar results, as Boston has allowed their issues on that end to affect their play on defense. This spiral effect has led to ugly losses. Two in a row against the Orlando Magic, a brutal first-half beatdown against the Indiana Pacers, and an embarrassing 150-117 defeat to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But against the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night, the Celtics avoided the trap. They stayed the course and earned a 107-99 victory. Head coach Joe Mazzulla called it “one of their better wins” of the year.
“Credit to our guys. I thought this was one of our better wins, one of our complete wins, because of our mindset and our toughness. And so, regardless of the result on either end of the floor, we kept a certain body language and a certain focus about us. A togetherness, a commitment to the details, and it was really fun to watch the guys do that. I think that’s what helped us win the game.”
The win marked just the sixth time all season Boston has held an opponent to under 100 points. Despite their poor three-point shooting on the night (26.8%), they remained focused and determined on the defensive end. Chicago made some tough looks, but the Celtics held DeMar DeRozan, who has dominated Boston this season, to just 13 points.
A poor three-point shooting night has been a sign of trouble all year long for the Celtics. Their rough showing against Chicago was just the fifth time they’ve shot below 27% in a game, but it was the first victory of the bunch.
Mazzulla has consistently stressed the importance of taking open shots, but after Boston’s win over the Bulls, he also emphasized the fact that it can’t be the Celtics’ defining identity.
“I still like to shoot a lot of open shots, because it shows that we’re spaced. It shows we’re playing fast. It shows we’re creating two-on-ones all over the floor. We have to continue to shoot with confidence, but it can’t be our identity, just shooting. it has to be executing. And so tonight, in the four factors, we lost at turnover percentage by a hair, won the offensive rebound percentage, we didn’t win the effective field goal percentage, but we got to the free-throw line. And so, games like that, where we’re able to kind of tough it out just by making winning plays throughout, the games [are] important.”
Boston attempted 41 threes against the Bulls, with a couple of their top shot-takers failing to record a single make: Jaylen Brown (0-for-8) and Derrick White (0-for-3). Meanwhile, Jayson Tatum shot just 4-for-11 from range on the night.
The superstar forward made up for it with a loaded stat sheet, however, recording a 32-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist performance. He and Grant Williams (20 points) led the way in the scoring column on a night where Boston depended on their defense.
After the contest, Tatum said that he’s “feeling great” with the way the Celtics are playing this year but wishes they could have some of the losses back. They believe they should have a better record than the one they have now, 29-12 which is the best in the NBA.