Celtics' stifling defense paves way for easy 100-80 win over Bulls

Celtics' stifling defense paves way for easy 100-80 win over Bulls

BOSTON – Brad Stevens has said on more than one occasion that the team’s defense is better than what we’ve seen for most of this season.

For a change, his players went out and proved it with what was one of their most stifling displays defensively this season which paved the way for a relatively easy 100-80 win in which Boston led from the early moment following the opening tip until the final horn sounded.

Isaiah Thomas led all scorers with 22 points with Avery Bradley chipping in 17. Robin Lopez and Denzel Valentine each had a team-high 13 points for the Bulls (31-35) who have now lost five straight.

Boston (42-25) played the Bulls for the last time during the regular season, with Sunday’s win evening their head-to-head series at two games apiece.

That’s important if these two finish with an identical record, an unlikely occurrence considering how the Celtics are surging towards the top of the East while the Bulls have now lost five straight with few signs that things will improve anytime soon.

Boston set the tone from the outset with its defense that forced Chicago to miss its first 12 shots and 18 of 19.

As the game wore on, Boston’s defense continued to wear down the Bulls at every instance.

Shots around the rim were contested or deflected.

Perimeter opportunities were being defended just as tightly by Boston.

It was arguably the best defensive showing by the entire team this season.

And for them to have the kind of progress going forward during the regular season and into the playoffs, they will need to play with a similar defense-first mentality.

Despite players consistently saying that is how they want to approach games, how they’ve played and how they say they want to play have not always been the same.

But on Sunday, there was no denying Boston’s intent on being an elite team defensively was on display.

However, it wasn’t like the Celtics were shutting down the Golden State Warriors or the Houston Rockets, either.

Chicago has had its problems offensively this season, so Boston’s strong showing has to be put in proper perspective.

We’re accustomed to seeing Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder put their imprint defensively on games.

But Sunday was as close to an all-team effort defensively as we’ve seen all season.

And it manifested itself not just in the way they defended individually, but how they consistently covered for one another on rotations, switches and tilts defensively that didn’t allow the Bulls to ever feel comfortable.

Because of that, even when the Celtics hit a few offensive lulls it never got to a point where their control of the game was ever in doubt.

Even the Bulls best players played poorly. Jimmy Butler had five points on 2-for-11 shooting while Dwyane Wade finished with eight points but was a -37 when he was on the floor.

Lots of players stepped up and contributed to the Celtics win.

But this was as close to a team victory as they’ve had in a while, a team win that was fueled by their defense.

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

1:13 - The Celtics came away with a 105-100 win in Portland on Friday night. Find out why Chris Mannix is calling this the best Celtics win of the season.

6:05 - Mannix discusses details about Kyrie Irving’s ‘minimally invasive’ procedure on his knee and what his level of concern is with A. Sherrod Blakely and Gary Tanguay.

10:03 - Michael Holley and Tom Curran discuss what NFL players, including Devin McCourty, are doing beyond the gridiron by being active in criminal justice reform discussions held at Harvard this week.



Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

When you think about Marcus Morris these days, big-time scoring immediately comes to mind. 

But in Boston’s 105-100 comeback win over Portland, Morris’ contributions went beyond the game-high 30 points he dropped on the Blazers.

MORE - Blakely's stars, studs, and duds from Celtics-Trail Blazers

“Coach (Brad Stevens) is doing a great job of getting me the ball in my spots and my teammates are finding me,” Morris told reporters after the win. “And I’m just coming through.”

He’s providing strong play and a tremendous presence at both ends of the floor which has been critical to the team navigating some choppy waters with a number of regular rotation players – namely Kyrie Irving – out with injuries.

“One thing is, he’s healthy,” said Boston’s Al Horford, referring to the sore knee that limited Morris earlier this season and at times forced him to miss games. “And the other is, he’s just more confident, he’s playing very assertive. He’s playing great right now, in a really good rhythm.”

Said Stevens: “That’s been him (Morris). As he’s continued to feel better; I think physically he’s felt as good as he’s felt. He’s comfortable in our system and we need him to score. If you’re a basketball player and your job is to score, that’s a pretty good job.”

And it’s one that even with all the injuries Boston has played through, few envisioned him being such an integral part of the offense. 

Morris’ calling card prior to arriving in Boston was his defense. 

But Morris has made it known that his focus on the floor is to be as complete a player as possible.

“I’m not trying to just limit myself to just being that scorer,” Morris said. “Also, on the defensive end I think I’m bringing it; my defense has gotten a lot better, especially my on-the-ball defense. I’m trying to be that all-around player and not just an offensive player … but I can score.”