Coming off of last week’s disappointing loss to the Orlando Magic, the Boston Celtics’ chances in the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament hinged on a substantial win over the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night — their final game of the group stage of the tournament. The goal? A win of at least 23 points, which would put them in position to win their group — provided the Brooklyn Nets come up with a win of their own against the Toronto Raptors. The Celtics did exactly that, winning a 27-point blowout over the Bulls and putting their tournament fate in the hands of the Nets.
Jaylen Brown led the game in scoring for the evening, putting down an efficient 30 points on 12-of-23 shooting from the field. Jayson Tatum added 21 points of his own, and the Celtics’ reserves — motivated, perhaps, by the $500,000 tournament reward — contributed a lively 29 points collectively. For Chicago, DeMar DeRozan and Coby White scored 29 points apiece, but Zach LaVine struggled to the tune of just two points on 1-of-9 shooting.
The tempo favored the Celtics early — a lively, quick-paced affair that gave Boston plenty of opportunities to run in transition, move the basketball and create open threes. An early stalemate gave way to a nearly effortless-seeming 17-3 Boston run, and the Celtics scorched the nets to the tune of 8-of-16 shooting from deep in the opening quarter. Led by nine points from Brown, they led the Bulls 31-20 entering the second.
8️⃣ threes and counting for the squad pic.twitter.com/DSB4VYWXdw— Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 29, 2023
A balanced offensive attack helped power the Celtics forward as the second quarter commenced. They enjoyed a notably strong start from their reserves, with chippy efforts from Al Horford, Payton Pritchard, Luke Kornet and Dalano Banton that suggested they would like to be playing in Las Vegas next week. The lead surpassed 20 points on Horford’s second three-pointer of the afternoon with just over three minutes remaining in the half, as they inched ever closer to the all-important +23 point differential. Their second consecutive 30+ point quarter put them well on pace, leading Chicago by 19 at the halftime break, 69-50.
Early in the third quarter, the Bulls suffered an injury scare, as DeRozan landed on Holiday’s foot on a drive to the basket and appeared to twist his ankle. DeRozan remained in the game after the injury, but appeared to be laboring somewhat on the ensuing possessions, limping slightly even after drawing a foul on White and connecting on a pair of free throws.
Even with DeRozan remaining in play, Chicago did not look like a team that belonged in the same area code as Boston tonight. The Celtics continued to add to their lead, surpassing the magic 23-point mark and drawing closer to 30 as the quarter drew on. Leading the way was Brown, who shrugged off a recent run of less-than-inspiring performances to spearhead the Boston offense for the evening. Through three quarters, he matched his best scoring performance over the past seven games with 26 points, and the Celtics took a 29-point lead into the final quarter, 97-68.
With the IST outcome still in limbo, Joe Mazzulla opted to keep the starters in the game for the fourth quarter, despite the significant lead. The Celtics cracked 100 points with a three from Banton, but the drama drew from the margin of the lead, which slipped to 25 behind a few early Chicago buckets. It was a unique spectacle for a November blowout, to be sure,
It would only get more bizarre as the clock ticked down. Leading by 29 with just under eight minutes remaining in regulation, Mazzulla opted to begin intentionally fouling Bulls center Andre Drummond, putting the lifetime 48% free throw shooter on the line in a bid to improve their IST standing. The gambit worked; Drummond shot just 1-of-6 from the free throw line, and the Celtics surged the lead back over the 30-point line as the end of the game drew near. They were unable to string together enough stops to get much further however, leaving the final tally
Next up, the Celtics will host the Philadelphia 76ers for the two teams’ third matchup of the young NBA season, this Friday at 7:30 PM EST on ESPN.