Good thing that throughout this stretch of efficient, pretty basketball, the Bulls didn’t forget how to play in the mud.
Jimmy Butler demonstratively yelled “no!” when Celtics guard Evan Turner tried a fourth-quarter drive he stripped out of bounds.
The usually demure Derrick Rose slammed his hands on the floor, earning a technical foul while complaining about not getting a foul call on a drive to the basket.
“That’s the story of my career since my MVP year (2010-11), it feels like I haven’t gone to the line like I’m supposed to,” he said.
And Pau Gasol, Bobby Portis, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk traded bumps and bruises all night in what will likely register as one of the more physical games of the season.
In other words, number six did not come easy, but it came.
But on the back of some tough play and silky smooth old-school drives from Rose in the fourth quarter, the Bulls emerged with a 101-92 win over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night.
Rose had two crucial layups and an assist to Butler for a layup of his own, finishing with 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists in another sterling offensive performance, shooting 9-for-16 from the field.
“Derrick has got his rhythm back,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “As long as we keep the ball moving, that has given us a lot of success as of late.”
Gasol, who played his most physical game of the season, scored 17 with 18 rebounds and four assists in 34 minutes. Butler had another 10-assist performance to make up for a tough go at shooting, as he scored 19 on 5-for-14 shooting.
“It’s all about how you finish,” Butler said. “My teammates picked me up early. I think we won because of our defense, we played well all over the floor.”
Doug McDermott came to life in the fourth, hitting two triples to held stem the tide when the desperate Celtics tried mounting a comeback. The pretty shots were a rare sight for either squad, as the Bulls shot 41.5 percent from the field and the Celtics were a putrid 35.7 percent.
Rose helped hold jitterbug guard Isaiah Thomas to 5-for-17 shooting, which included the 20-point scorer missing all four of his 3-point attempts, as the Celtics shot 5-for-25 from deep. And Turner, who always wants to impress in his return home, shot just 4-for-12 for 10 points.
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The Celtics, coming off a disappointing loss at home to Detroit the night before, looked a little leg weary and were without their coach Brad Stevens, who left the team to visit a former player he coached at Butler who’s now battling cancer.
They didn’t look ruddlerless and at times played with more fervor than the Bulls, but it didn’t translate to offensive efficiency as the Bulls held them to just 14-for-49 shooting in the second and third quarter, when the Bulls outscored them by 17 and took control.
The offensive flow that had been such a standard in the last week or so was uneven. Not ineffective, but turning the ball over too much and Butler’s inability to get going slowed things, as he went scoreless in the first.
“First 12 minutes we weren’t doing anything. Our pace was beyond brutal,” Hoiberg admitted.
Butler was doubled every time he had the ball and even sometimes when he wasn’t. It was clear the 36-point performance Butler had last month in Boston was fresh in the Celtics’ mind, but they clearly didn’t plan on Rose carving up their interior.
Rose took advantage of the 5-foot-9 Thomas guarding him and went straight to the basket at every chance, essentially keeping the Bulls in the game despite falling behind by 10.
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But their confidence in what has been built was on display, as they didn’t deviate from the plan that has earned them eight straight 100-point games through this current winning streak.
“It’s what we talked about in the timeouts,” Hoiberg said. “Once we got it going and had a little spurt, it injected a little energy. We got some momentum and carried that to the third.”
And Nikola Mirotic had a couple big plays before the half, along with Rose and then Butler finally getting going with an off-balance three-point play, a key point in the Bulls’ 18-6 run that gave them a one-point halftime lead.
Mirotic only shot 3-for-10 but scored 11 with eight rebounds and played with some necessary toughness on the boards when possessions were at a premium.
Piling up the wins as they find their identity is of utmost importance, and they seem to be taking advantage of the opportunities given to them.