Bulls snap four-game losing streak with emphatic win over Celtics

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To state the obvious: The needed a win Monday night.

Not only had they dropped four in a row — and six of their last seven to fall to 6-10 — entering a home matchup with the , a six-game road trip featuring plenty of daunting opponents awaits beginning Wednesday in Milwaukee.

Well, the Bulls will begin that stretch with an extra victory in the column after routing the reigning Eastern Conference champions 121-107. That it snapped a nine-game Celtics win streak, and moved the Bulls to 2-1 against them on the season, was all the sweeter.

Here are 10 observations:

1. This game saw a much better start for a Bulls team that has seen slow ones hurt them in recent losses to the Magic and Nuggets. Although the Celtics missed their fair share of open shots, the Bulls’ defensive activity level was high in a first quarter they nabbed four steals, scored six points off six turnovers and held Boston to 6-for-22 shooting (5-for-17 from 3-point range).

It was the first time the Bulls led after a first quarter in exactly two weeks; the last time they did so was on Nov. 7, when they beat the Toronto Raptors at the United Center.

2. The Celtics seemed content to concede 3-point attempts to most of the Bulls’ lower-volume shooters, mainly sagging off of Patrick Williams and Alex Caruso. This has been a recipe for success for opponents in the past, but on this night, those two made them pay.

Williams (3-for-4) and Caruso (2-for-4) combined to go 5-for-8 from long range in the first half, leading the way as the Bulls outpaced the Celtics 7-for-16 (43.8 percent) to 8-for-26 (30.8 percent) in the first 24 minutes.

3. Williams even found his groove outside of spot-up jumpers en route to a season-high 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting. In two notable second half sequence, he took Jayson Tatum off the dribble for contested pull-up midrange jumpers that helped keep the Celtics at bay.

4. By game’s end, the Celtics’ 3-point shooting positively regressed, as they finished 19-for-50 (38 percent) from 3-point range. That built on their first-ranked average of 16.1 3-pointers made (16.1) per game. But they missed enough early to allow the Bulls to build a 21-point third quarter lead that proved insurmountable. On the other end, the Bulls shot 14-for-29 from deep and 51.7 percent total in a sterling offensive performance.

5. Nikola Vučević is made for matchups against teams like Boston, which runs small in the frontcourt (especially with Robert Williams sidelined) and switches ball-screens regularly, which often leaves guards and wings defending bigs. In turn, Vučević pulled down 13 rebounds, scored 12 points (6-for-7 shooting) and handed out six assists — a product of the Celtics sending multiple defenders at him — as the Bulls frequently looked to establish him in the post.

6. Zach LaVine did not quite bounce back from Friday’s fourth quarter benching , but he was far better than his 1-for-14 outing, and in multiple facets, scoring 22 points, tossing five assists, grabbing two steals and shooting 5-for-10 from beyond the arc. Better yet, nine of those points came in the fourth quarter, proving why you do, in fact, play a guy like him down the stretch.

“He did it defensively, he did it with his passing,” Billy Donovan said of LaVine postgame. “He did a lot of positive things.”

7. Through two quarters, DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls in scoring with 13 points, but on pedestrian 5-for-12 shooting. In the third quarter, he heated up. As the Bulls stretched their lead as high as 21, he scored eight points and made 2-of-2 3-point attempts. For the game, he led the way with 28 points and made a season-high three triples.

8. Goran Dragić exited to the locker room in the first quarter with a left shoulder injury, leading to extended early run from Coby White. His first eight-minute stint was a mixed bag, with five points (1-for-3 from 3-point range) and three assists, but also a tough sequence in which he missed a fastbreak layup then was beat for a floater by Marcus Smart at the other end.

Dragić returned midway through the second and White did not return until the start of the fourth. But that was when his greatest impact was made. In a roughly six-minute stint to open the frame, he made a layup, blocked a Tatum floater and picked Smart’s pocket to help stem a comeback gasp by Boston.

Donovan characterized Dragić’s injury as a “stinger” after the game, saying the veteran guard was hit in the neck and experienced numbness in the back of his arm and elbow.

“When he came back in, I just didn’t think he looked right to me, and that was my decision,” Donovan said of Dragić, who finished with a season-low seven minutes and did not get his regular run in the second half. “I did not ask him. I think he would have continued to play.”

9. Javonte Green was Donovan’s first power forward off the bench after Derrick Jones Jr. got first half run in that spot against the Magic (a game Green entered in the second half and turned on its head by notching eight points and three steals in 18 consecutive minutes). In this one, he had eight points and three rebounds in 12 minutes.

And, for good measure, he and Caruso (four steals) were deflection machines, as the Bulls turned 15 Celtics turnovers into 18 points for the game.

10. The Celtics will leave this game thinking they left a lot of offense on the table by way of missed open shots. And Robert Williams, their uber-athletic starting center and defensive anchor, has yet to play a game this season, so this is not a full-strength group.

But after three early-season matchups between these two sides, it does not feel outlandish to say the Bulls match up well with the reigning Eastern Conference champions. The Bulls are now 2-1 on the season against the Celtics with a whopping +28 point differential and certain variables — Vučević’s walking mismatch status, DeRozan’s success against single-coverage and the ability to turn Boston over, to name three — feel sustainable.

Next up for the Bulls: At the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.

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