Amidst the Boston Celtics’ 21-5 start to the 2022-23 regular season, only one team seemed to really frustrate them: the Chicago Bulls, who scored two blowout wins over the Celtics during a stretch where all three of their other losses came in overtime. The Bulls have largely had a mercurial season, but for whatever reason, they’ve competed intensely against the Celtics this season. That trend continued again tonight, but ultimately, the Celtics finished the season series against Chicago in a 2-2 tie with a 107-99 win.
Jayson Tatum led the way for the Celtics with 32 points, backed up by 20 points from Grant Williams and 19 from Jaylen Brown. The Bulls lost star DeMar DeRozan to an injury early in the second half, but still managed to keep the game close behind 27 points from a resurgent Zach LaVine and 21 from center Nikola Vucevic.
Two days after Tatum expressed his desire to have Robert Williams III return to the starting lineup, he got his wish. With Marcus Smart (left knee contusion) sidelined, Joe Mazzulla opted to return the fourth-year center to his starting role. The move paid dividends immediately, as Williams quickly snaked his way open for a pair of finishes in the paint off of feeds from his teammates, while added a blocked shot and setting a number of quality screens in the first quarter.
Alongside Williams, both Tatum (16 points) and Brown (15) were effective in the first half, and the bench contributed a solid 15 points collectively. But the Bulls played the Celtics as tough as they have all season, refusing to allow Boston to gain much distance for most of the half. As the second quarter wound down, however, the Celtics pulled off a 15-5 run to finally give them a couple possessions’ worth of space. They entered the halftime break leading by nine, 59-50.
A scary moment arose early in the third quarter, as DeRozan hit the floor while attempting to work against Al Horford off the dribble. He hit the floor after what appeared to be a non-contact injury to his knee, and stayed down for some time. DeRozan remained in the game after the ensuing TV timeout and appeared to have avoided significant injury, but returned to the locker room shortly thereafter and was quickly ruled out for the evening with a right quad strain.
The second half began with a Chicago surge, pulling themselves back within one possession early in the third quarter. But as play resumed after the DeRozan injury, the scales tipped heavily in the Celtics’ favor. Led by a surge from Tatum, they flipped the script on Chicago midway through the third, managing to extend their lead heading into the final frame, 84-73.
Even without DeRozan on the court, the Bulls refused to go quietly. It was far from an explosive run, but they clawed their way back within five points in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, aided by a lengthy scoreless streak from the Celtics’ offense. It was a game of push-and-pull from there, as the Celtics fought back to extend their lead, but struggled through some bricked wide-open looks before LaVine connected on a deep, contested three to cut the score to 96-91 with just under four minutes left to play.
LaVine struck again moments later, following a Nikola Vucevic three-pointer with another one of his own to bring Chicago within two. A pair of Tatum free throws and a Vucevic layup later, the game came to a crucial sequence with less than a minute to play. LaVine couldn’t connect on a mid-range jumper, and the Celtics let the clock run, leading to an enormous three from Horford with 24 seconds remaining in regulation.
From there, Tatum put the game on ice.
Next up, the Celtics will kick off a back-to-back against a pair of teams missing their star players, facing off against the New Orleans Pelicans (sans-Zion Williamson) this Wednesday at 7:30 PM EST on NBC Sports Boston.