Bulls

11 observations: Bulls storm past Celtics in 2nd-half comeback

Bulls

The Chicago Bulls scraped together perhaps their most thrilling win of the season Monday night in Boston, erasing a 19-point third quarter deficit to defeat the Celtics 128-114.

The victory moved the Bulls to 6-1, and featured a staggering charge from the final minutes of the third quarter through the end of the fourth.

Here are 11 observations:

1. The Bulls shot just 5-for-21 on 3-pointers against the Utah Jazz on Saturday, but hit six inside the first five minutes of this one. They cashed each of their first five 3-point tries — then six of their first seven en route to shooting 7-for-9 in the period — building a first-quarter lead that swelled as high as nine points.

2. But turnover trouble stymied that momentum. The Bulls committed six turnovers in the first quarter (nearly halfway to their second-fewest-in-the-NBA 12.2 per game entering play), off which the Celtics scored nine points. That helped Boston jump in front 35-34 by the end of the period. 

In the first half, the Bulls committed 10 turnovers, off which the Celtics scored 16 points. Meanwhile, the Bulls turned one Celtics turnover into two points. Combine that with just three first-half free-throw attempts, and it was a first half of basketball that ran completely opposite to the identity Billy Donovan wants his group to establish — an identity they embodied emphatically against the Jazz.

3. Similar to the Jazz game, though, DeMar DeRozan cooked with boiling hot grease in the first half. Through two quarters, he led all scorers with 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting — with 17 of those points (7-for-10) coming in the game’s first 14 minutes. His presence commanding reserve-heavy lineups at the end of the first and beginning of the second was instrumental to a 15-0 run that helped the Bulls leap from down 35-31 to ahead 46-35.

 

4. But the Celtics punched back with a 16-2 run spearheaded by Jaylen Brown to regain the advantage, leading 67-59 at halftime. With a stretch of scalding shotmaking from all over the court, Brown scored 13 points in a span of 2 minutes, 32 seconds to turn the tide of the contest.

5. It got worse in the third quarter, with Boston building as much as a 19-point lead early in the second half. But the bench brought a spark. A 19-2 run between end of third and beginning of fourth quarter, which was capped by an Ayo Dosunmu 3-pointer, flipped a 103-87 deficit into a 106-105 advantage between the 23.7-second mark of the third quarter and 06:53 mark of the fourth. The rim protection of Tony Bradley (2 blocks), and defensive activity of Derrick Jones Jr. (2 blocks, 1 steal), were instrumental in that span.

6. So, too, was Dosunmu — perhaps most of all. Not only was it a 3-pointer from the rookie second-round pick that gave the Bulls their first lead since the second quarter, he broke into double-figures for the first time in his NBA career, scoring 14 points on sterling 6-for-6 shooting, including two triples and multiple gutsy floaters. At least while Coby White remains sidelined, Dosunmu's rotation role seems secure.

"He's fearless," Donovan said postgame. "His makeup is special."

7. Give the second-stringers a ton of credit. Led by Dosunmu’s 14 points, and 9 apiece from Caruso and Dosunmu, the four reserves that rounded out Donovan’s nine-man rotation scored 36 points. Jones Jr. (+23) led the team in plus-minus, with Caruso (+21), Dosunmu (+15) and Bradley (+11) not far behind. Troy Brown Jr. and Alize Johnson were once again on the outside looking in, giving an idea of what Donovan's trust tree looks like right now.

8. As he did in the Jazz win, Zach LaVine awoke in the fourth after a slow start. Through three quarters, the Bulls’ All-Star guard had 13 points on just 4-for-14 shooting, 1-for-7 from deep. In the fourth quarter alone, he doubled that output and was nearly unstoppable off the dribble, scoring 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting to turn the Bulls’ mad dash into an avalanche.

9. DeRozan didn’t go away either. He added 10 points in the fourth, including three free throws and a corner 3-pointer, to finish with 37 on ludicrously efficient 15-for-20 shooting — his Bulls-tenure high and second straight 30-point outing. DeRozan and LaVine combined for 63 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists, with LaVine supplying 7 of the latter. So much for those fit questions.

 

10. Donovan has owned since training camp that the Bulls are an undersized team. In this one, that undersized nature showed up on the wing in their worst moments. Jayson Tatum (20 points) and Jaylen Brown (28) combined for 48 points and nearly took the game over before the fourth-quarter collapse.

Lonzo Ball was tasked with defensive responsibilities on each at various points — he’s the Bulls’ go-to defender of wing scorers with Patrick Williams out — and while Ball was solid on-ball for the most part, Tatum and Brown’s ability to elevate over smaller defenders (Alex Caruso and Dosunmu, too) resulted in multiple displays of difficult shotmaking.

That made the 21 minutes the long-limbed Jones Jr. provided all the more essential. He got a couple key stops on Tatum down the stretch, and stayed on the court until Caruso spelled him with three minutes to play and the Bulls ahead by six points. Caruso overcame the threat of foul trouble to collect 2 steals and a block.

11. The Bulls outscored the Celtics 39-11 in the fourth quarter, and 51-18 in the game’s final 14 minutes, 19 seconds after falling behind 96-77. It was an absolutely remarkable turnaround.

To the Bulls’ credit, they refound their identity down the stretch after losing their way in the first half. In the second half, the Bulls scored 12 points off eight Celtics turnovers, visited the free-throw line 15 times and relentlessly attacked the basket in the fourth quarter. What’s more, the Celtics shot 0-for-8 from 3-point range in the fourth (they were 15-for-25 through three), while the Bulls went 3-for-6 from distance in the final frame (they entered it 10-for-25 — 3-for-16 after their torrid first quarter). The Bulls' defensive activity and rotations were much crisper late, cooling a Celtics offense that shot over 51 percent from the field in the game's first 36 minutes.

"It’s very gratifying to see that we keep the fight. We was down big on the road in a tough place to play in. We didn’t get rattled. We buckled down. The second group came in, brought the energy. And we carried it over from there," DeRozan said. "I knew from coming here, everybody on the team had that chip on their shoulder and wasn’t gonna lay down for no reason. And we showed it tonight."

The resilience displayed by the visitors, and utter implosion by the hosts, resulted in scattered boos cascading throughout TD Garden in the game’s final minutes. It was music to the Bulls’ ears.

Next up: At the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.

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