Observations: Vučević, White, LaVine lead Bulls past Celtics originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
In the first game with fans since March 10, 20202, the Bulls used Nikola Vučević's fourth career triple-double to defeat a Celtics team playing without Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams 121-99.
Here are eight observations:
1. The Nikola Vučević-Daniel Theis pairing is starting to show some chemistry. Both big men are smart passers and skilled shooters. They again showed aptitude playing in high-low situations. And they’re interchangeable, which plays into their abilities to read the game and read the floor. Vučević had seven points and five assists in his first rotational stint alone, and Theis added five first-quarter points as the Bulls started well for the second straight game.
2. At least for now, Javonte Green has supplanted Denzel Valentine and Ryan Arcidiacono in the rotation. This is no small detail given the stakes of these games. Green got his first extended look when he injected defensive energy into the second half of the loss to the 76ers and has been the low-minute 10th man for Billy Donovan. Green even hit his first 3-pointer since February 17---when he played for the Celtics. He only logged four first-half minutes before going back in for mop-up time in the fourth but made the critical minutes count.
3. After easing into his first game back, Zach LaVine looked more aggressive offensively. He took 10 of his 24 shots before halftime, including one of his patented quick flurries by knocking down a 14-footer and a 3-pointer in 23 seconds. In the second half, he did it again, sinking a 3-pointer and driving for a dunk in a 24-second span. Even better, LaVine paired well with Coby White in the first half. White sank four of his seven 3-pointers in the first half en route to 25 points. Regardless of whether White is the starting point guard next season, he’s an important core piece. He and LaVine flashing dynamic scoring in the same game is a good thing. LaVine also finished with 25 points, the first time both players hit that level since March 3 in New Orleans.
4. For the second straight game, the defense showed some teeth. In some instances, it came from unlikely sources. On one possession, Lauri Markkanen found himself on an island, isolated on Jayson Tatum. Markkanen ably moved his feet and Tatum settled for a long, contested 2-pointer, which he missed. On another possession, Vučević blocked Tristan Thompson’s power move down low after Thompson initially appeared to gain a step on the big man. Vučević promptly buried a 3-pointer at the other end. On a third possession, White blocked Kemba Walker’s shot from behind. The Bulls held their second straight opponent under 100 points.
5. For the second straight meeting, the Bulls bottled up Tatum. After shooting 3-for-17 in these teams’ last meeting, Tatum finished 3-for-15 for nine points. He missed all seven 3-point attempts. And as for a more likely defensive source, Patrick Williams started on Tatum and did a stellar job. But Williams also showed advanced defensive instincts on several rotations, finishing with two steals and disrupting several other possessions.
6. Vučević cycled through so many defenders that Celtics coach Brad Stevens turned to seldom-used Tacko Fall for a second-half stint. Vučević had his way with Thompson and Luke Kornet early and often. Former Bull and local product Jabari Parker, who endured a rough first-half stint, even got switched onto the big man one time. Vučević posted his fourth career triple-double and first by a Bull since Jimmy Butler on April 6, 2017.
7. For three quarters, the Bulls excelled in two areas in which they've struggled all season---turnovers and fouling. They had just four turnovers and five fouls at halftime and only five turnovers and 12 fouls through three quarters. Then, the fourth quarter happened. The Bulls started to limp to the finish line. At one point, Vučević and White committed brutal turnovers on successive possessions as the Celtics opened the fourth with a 16-4 run to make an easy game tense. But the Bulls still only finished with nine turnovers.
8. The way LaVine finished this game is encouraging, especially considering he played a back-to-back set of games coming off an 11-game absence due to a positive COVID-19 test. When the Celtics pulled within eight, LaVine drove for an emphatic dunk. Even better, LaVine stole a Marcus Smart pass on the ensuing possession and White buried his seventh 3-pointer at the other end. Suddenly, an eight-point lead swelled to 13. And it quickly ballooned back to 20 on a LaVine 3-pointer.
Standings update: None of the teams clustered around the Bulls played. The Bulls moved to within three games of the 10th-place Wizards in the race for the final play-in spot. With five games remaining, the Bulls own the tiebreaker over the Wizards,
Next up: At Detroit on Sunday. The Pistons, who have lost seven of nine and are resting many regular rotation players, will be finishing a back-to-back with a first game against the 76ers.