After false start, Bulls flip script and beat Celtics 120-102
Late last season, before being crowned Eastern Conference champions, the Boston Celtics visited the United Center and made the Bulls look like they were playing defense in their socks. And on ice.
The Bulls couldn't contend with the speed of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown last April. At the start of Monday's rematch, it seemed like the only thing that could save them was motorized sneakers.
Tatum and Brown combined for 25 points in the first quarter, Boston buried 8 of its first 9 shots from 3-point range and the Bulls fell behind 35-16.
Somehow, though, the spirits of Jerry Sloan, Scottie Pippen and whatever Bulls could actually play defense seemed to take over on this week before Halloween.
The Bulls not only made a defensive stand, they flipped the game in shocking fashion, coming all the way back to dominate the Celtics for a 120-102 victory.
"It's something we talked about," center Nikola Vucevic said. "Last year, the way we finished, it's not who we are and we know that we're much better than that. It was a bad stretch for us. This is a new year."
Vucevic celebrated his 32nd birthday by pulling in 23 rebounds, which is 6 short of his career-high, set when he was 22 and in his second NBA season. DeMar DeRozan led the scoring with 25 points. Ayo Dosunmu looked more like he did in the season-opener at Miami, scoring 22 points on 9 of 10 shooting, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range.
"It's good that we didn't fold, we found a way to do it," Vucevic said. "This team has been together longer now, we know each other better. Sometimes you have to hit adversity to learn about each other."
The dizzying turn of events had the Celtics flustered, with head coach Joe Mazzulla and center Grant Williams both getting ejected in the second half.
With 5:27 left and Boston down by 21, Celtics assistant Damon Stoudemire sent in the five guys at the end of the bench, which included former all-star Blake Griffin and ex-Bull Luke Kornet.
A few things stood out during the first-half flip. Most importantly, the Celtics stopped hitting 3-pointers, going 2-for-17 during the rest of the half until Marcus Smart banked one in at the second quarter buzzer.
Two players that helped the turnaround were Alex Caruso, who offered Tatum some defensive resistance, and Derrick Jones Jr., who scored 10 points in a strong stint off the bench.
"A win is a win, but we had this one circled on our calendar," Jones Jr. said. "They came in here and they gave us the business last year. (During the rough start,) all I thought about was getting in there and as much energy as I can put on the floor."
The Bulls also turned up the offensive intensity, attacking the basket and getting the Celtics on their heels, which carried over to the other end.
The turnaround happened pretty quickly. The Bulls tied it at 44-44 on a Zach LaVine free throw with 8:51 left in the second quarter, then took the lead on a Goran Dragic driving bank. From that point, the Celtics never again held the lead, while the Bulls outscored them 70-40 in the middle quarters.
Coach Billy Donovan said during two early time outs, he focused on doing a better job of following the game plan.
"We needed to have a little bit more attention to detail," Donovan said. "It wasn't so much that they were making shots, it was more about, 'Here are the things we covered, here's what we said we wanted to do and we're not executing.'"