10 observations: Bulls author remarkable comeback to rout Celtics

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You don’t see 42-point in-game swings every night in the NBA.

Especially authored by a 1-2 Chicago Bulls team that entered play fresh off a 32-point defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers and on Monday hosting the reigning Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics.

But that is exactly what the Bulls did, flipping a 19-point first quarter deficit into an, at one juncture, 23-point second half lead, and eventually an impressive 120-102 victory, moving them to 2-2 on the season.

Here are 10 observations:

one. Not many teams have a great answer for a wing duo akin to Celtics forwards Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but the Bulls looked particularly ill-equipped early on. Patrick Williams began the game guarding Tatum, and Ayo Dosunmu guarding Brown, but both roasted every defender in front of them from the jump. With 15 points from Tatum (5-for-6 shooting) and 10 (4-for-8) from Brown, they accounted for 25 of Bostons’ 39 first quarter points, accrued while making 8-of-11 3-point attempts as a team.

2. The Bulls trailed by as many as 19 points in the first quarter. But a rotational adjustment by Billy Donovan changed the momentum of the game. At the 2:31 mark of the first, Donovan substituted in Goran Dragić, Alex Caruso, LaVine and Andre Drummond to join Javonte Green. By the end of the quarter, Boston’s lead was 39-30. After Derrick Jones Jr. tapped Green to open the second, the Bulls opened another 16-5 run to claim a 46-44 lead by the 7:48 mark.

This was a departure from the Cavaliers game, when Donovan rode an all-bench group to bridge the first and second quarters that allowed Cleveland to build a 19-point lead that proved insurmountable. Monday’s bridge unit defended fiercely and ran with vigor, thrusting the Celtics on their heels just minutes after appearing dominant.

3. Jones began the season out of the rotation, but earned run to begin the second quarter for the second game in a row. Donovan called Jones ‘minutes on Saturday “productive,” but he will need a more effusive adjective this time around. He put up 10 points (2-for-4 shooting, 4-for-4 from foul line) in his first eight-minute stint, slashing forcefully to the basket for dunks and foul-draws, and hurrying the Celtics ‘wings with his activity at the defensive end.

4. It was a fine night for the Bulls’ center rotation against a Boston front line that, with Robert Williams sidelined, rotates Al Horford, Grant Williams and Noah Vonleh (who picked up four fouls in five first half minutes) as its bigs — and switches its guards and forwards often. The Bulls pulled down 14 offensive rebounds and put back 16 second chance points in the game, plus outscored Boston 46-34 in the paint.

Nikola Vučević led the way, and established himself firmly on the interior, to the tune of a dominant 18-point, 23-rebound (10 offensive) double-double. Combined with Drummond’s 12 boards, they nearly matched the Celtics’ entire team’s total of 44.

5. Alex Caruso was another spark in that first-to-second quarter surge, harassing the Celtics’ guards and wings, scrapping on the floor for loose balls and sparking plenty of fastbreak opportunities. He blocked two shots and made a 3-pointer in that period, but his impact went well beyond the stat sheet (although his +25 first half plus-minus in 10 minutes summarizes a fair amount).

Donovan spoke pregame about keeping a close eye on Caruso’s playing time, given his reckless abandon style and the importance of keeping him fresh for the minutes he does play. In 18 minutes in this one, he was sensational, racking up 7 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 blocks with a game-high +29 plus-minus.

6. Dosunmu’s confidence remains remarkable for a player of his experience level thrust into the role he currently occupies. He poured in 20 points for the game on 8-for-9 shooting, 9 of which came in important fashion in the third quarter as Boston made a run out of the half. Not only did Dosunmu’s speed on drives appear to catch Boston off guard on a few slashing finishes, he also made all four of his 3-point attempts, bringing his line for the season to 9-for-18 (50 percent, on 4.5 attempts per game, over two more than his 2.4 last season).

7. DeRozan and LaVine were there when the Bulls needed them, although it was refreshing to see them not required to lift heavily to ensure a convincing victory. DeRozan scored 25 points on 10-for-17 shooting. LaVine finished poorly compared to his season debut, shooting 5-for-15 overall and 2-for-10 inside the 3-point arc, but put enough pressure on the Celtics’ defense with drives and the threat of his pull-up jumper to free opportunities for his teammates.

8. The Bulls entered play ranked 29th in the NBA in 3-point percentage, having shot 27-for-92 (29.3 percent) across their first three games. Emboldened perhaps by a furiously fast, defense-centered game flow, they shot 10-for-21 (47.6 percent) in this one, receiving multiple triples from Dosunmu, LaVine (3-for-5) and Green (2-for-2 ).

9. Williams, playing six minutes, and Coby White, playing three, were effectively relegated from the first half rotation after each’s first stints and once the above second unit-led lineup got rolling. Williams did start the second half, and although he shot 2-for-7 for the night and had some tough defensive sequences on Tatum, flashed a few nice moments: a first quarter chasedown block on Brown, and a strong offensive rebound and putback dunk in the third quarter, to name two.

By game’s end, though, he (15 minutes with a few garbage-time ticks included) and White (9 minutes) logged the fewest minutes of the Bulls’ rotation players.

10. It is hard to overstate the Bulls’ in-game turnaround in this one. Trailing by as many as 19 in the first half, they led by as many as 23 in the fourth quarter before ultimately winning by 18. The physicality at the defensive end they discovered late in the first quarter, and maintained throughout, was the most noteworthy takeaway Between quarters two and four, they outscored the Celtics 90-63, holding them to 28-for-63 shooting, 10-for-37 from 3.

Next up for the Bulls: Hosting the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.

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