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.