The Bulls Saturday in their pre-Christmas game didn’t so much get a lump of coal as feeling like they were hit by a bag of it. The Celtics broke from a tight 60-58 first half to deliver reindeer dropping on the Bulls in a 38-18 third quarter that proved too much in the Celtics 117-92 victory.
It was the Bulls second straight loss after seven straight wins. They dropped to 10-22. The Celtics are 27-9. The Bulls play in Milwaukee Tuesday.
The Bulls were led by Bobby Portis with 17 points. Justin Holiday and Lauri Markkanen each had 12. David Nwaba scored 11. Jerian Grant had 10. Kris Dunn had a tough return to New England shooting one of 12 for two points with seven assists. Nikola Mirotic had nine points and nine rebounds.
Kyrie Irving was back with the Celtics after missing the Dec. 11 game in the United Center the Bulls won by 23 points. And making his presence felt with 16 first half points, the Celtics calling time out to get Irving back in the game as soon as the Bulls took a 46-40 lead. Irving then scored eight of Boston’s next nine points. The Bulls were impressive staying with the Celtics in a scorching shooting Boston first quarter at 71.4 percent. The Celtics bolted out 16-12 making eight of their first 10 shots. But the Bulls weren’t rattled despite the arena din. Markkanen and Holiday responded and then Portis came on strong in the last two minutes. He even caught a Mirotic airball and put it in to help keep the Bulls within 33-31 after one quarter. Portis then powered inside repeatedly in three consecutive possessions and Mirotic took advantage with a three as the Bulls moved ahead 49-42 with a Portis flexing three-point play. But with Irving motoring around over screens, the Celtics kept the ball hopping and held onto a 60-58 halftime lead with 10 lead changes. Portis had 15 points and seven rebounds in the half, 11 points in the second quarter, and Markkanen 10 points on just five shots in the half.
And then the green storm hit the Bulls, what felt like a typical New England nor’easter. Except it was inside as the Celtics used just a few minutes to effectively end the game. By the time of the Bulls second timeout of the third quarter just 4:07 in, the Celtics had taken a 73-60 lead and behind Irving’s scoring and deft ball movement, the Celtics took an 85-68 lead. It was turnovers again with three in the Bulls first six possessions while Boston was quicker and more alert for the loose balls. The Celtics after absorbing their worst loss of the season earlier this month in Chicago were prepared. They moved with purpose, continuing picking off Bulls defenders in pick and roll, driving and passing out to shooters as Boston remained better than 50 percent shooting through three quarters. Perhaps symbolic of the game was Grant making a shot to end the third quarter, though on the ground as it seemed Boston towered over the Bulls in that third quarter.