Pregame Post-Ups: C’s Look to Bounce Back vs. Red-Hot Bulls

Saturday, Dec. 23 - Bulls at Celtics

Pregame – C’s Look to Bounce Back vs. Red-Hot Bulls

BOSTON – There have been two versions of the Chicago Bulls this season. There’s the team that started out a miserable, 3-20, and there’s the team that has fired off seven wins in its last eight games.

So, which version is more believable? If you ask Celtics coach Brad Stevens, he’ll tell you that the latter is a greater representation of the Bulls’ true identity.

“I watched them play in the preseason, and in the exhibition game that I watched they were flying around,” Stevens said Saturday night before taking on the Bulls at TD Garden. “They were moving the ball and they were playing at a great tempo, and you could kind of see the makings of what they had.”

That chemistry, however, was broken apart before the season started.

Two days before Chicago’s season opener, forwards Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic were involved in an altercation in which Portis landed a punch that dealt Mirotic a concussion and multiple facial fractures. A rehabbing Miroitic would miss the first 23 games of the season, while a suspended Portis would miss the first eight.

Mirotic returned to action Dec. 8, and the Bulls reeled off seven straight wins, including a 108-85 win against the Celtics. Chicago has lost just one game since his return – a 115-112 defeat Thursday night in Cleveland.

“Obviously the Mirotic/Portis thing, not only do you lose one guy, you lose two guys for that many games early in the season, it’s just hard to overcome,” said Stevens. “But they kept going, and the last 10 games they’ve been unbelievable. They’ve been fun to watch and their half-court offense (during that stretch) has been the best in the NBA. And the way they move the ball and how connected they are is very evident on film.”

The strong offensive connection has been spearheaded by second-year point guard Kris Dunn, who was acquired from Minnesota this summer, along with Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine in exchange for Jimmy Butler.

The 2016 No. 5 overall pick, who tallied just 3.8 points, 2.4 assists, 2.1 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game during his rookie season with the Timberwolves, has upped his averages to 13.2 points, 5.6 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game. During the last eight games, those numbers have spiked to 15.8 PPG, 8.3 APG, 4.9 RPG and 2.3 SPG.

“I think sometimes we’re just so quick to judge based on one stretch of games – good or bad,” Stevens said, referring to Dunn’s rookie-to-sophomore leap. “He’s a young guy and he’s a really talented guy. And now he’s found the perfect opportunity.

“They’ve got good, young players out of that (Jimmy Butler) trade,” added the coach. “Dunn’s good, Markkanen’s good, and then Levine hasn’t even played yet. So those guys are good players, and they’re going to be good players there for a long time.”

Based on that knowledge, it’s unlikely that the 3-20 version of the Bulls was an accurate representation of the team that they are capable of being. The current, winning version of the Bulls is the one that the Celtics must be ready for tonight, or else they could be facing a similar result as their last meeting.

- Taylor Snow