BOSTON — The face and jersey number were the same. The name announced on the public address system was familiar. But nothing about D.J. Augustin on Sunday resembled the journeyman point guard who arrived in Chicago last December.
Augustin, picked off the scrap heap by the Chicago Bulls after the Toronto Raptors waived him barely a month into the season, dropped a career-high 33 points on the Boston Celtics, leading the Bulls to a 107-102 victory. His explosion — including a perfect 10-for-10 mark from the foul line — continued a renaissance for a player who looked close to useless in Indiana and Toronto.
“D.J. Augustin’s not the same person I saw in a Raptors uniform at the start of the season,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Here’s a guy that had been basically not in the rotation in Indiana, moved to Toronto, not much better there, and he looks like the quickest guy on the floor.”
“He’s playing great,” Stevens added. “He’s found his niche. He’s found a team that needs him to play freely to score. My hat’s off to him.”
Although Augustin has never had a scoring night like he did against the Celtics, his performance didn’t come out of nowhere. He’s averaged 16.6 points per game in March, continuing his gradual move into more of a scoring role for the playoff-bound Bulls. He was an equal-opportunity scorer, too, toasting Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo and Jerryd Bayless at various times.
Yet after being tossed aside by two teams in a span of six months, Augustin said his confidence wasn’t shaken.
“I believe in myself,” he said. “I am a basketball player, and I have always thought of myself as a pretty good basketball player. I think everyone on this level is pretty good, or they wouldn’t be in the NBA. I just have confidence in myself and my teammates. I am just feeling comfortable.”
Opponents typically have one reaction to Bulls center Joakim Noah on the court: disdain.
Noah is known for his, ahem, extracurricular activities as much as for his stellar play. That’s a shame. He’s risen to a place among the elites not just at his position but in the game, although many people can’t get past his flopping and wild hair.
Still, he has one huge fan on the Celtics.
“He’s honestly one of my favorite players to watch,” Jared Sullinger said. “He does everything so hard. I respect it. I really do. Great passer, his shot is starting to fall now and he’s so unselfish. He plays hard and he gives you a lot of things that you don’t see in a stat sheet. Playing against Noah is an honor, but at the same time, it’s pretty tough because he’s so active.”
What sets Noah apart from other elite centers like Roy Hibbert and Marc Gasol, however, isn’t his defensive tenacity or leadership. Plenty of big men bring that. Noah adds a playmaking element as well. He dished out 13 assists Sunday, in addition to his 13 points and eight rebounds, to increase his season average to 5.2 assists per game.
“That’s one of the toughest things, when you have to guard someone when the ball goes through them, when a lot of the playmaking ability goes through them,” Sullinger said. “It really changes it up. At one point, you want Joakim to shoot the jumper, but at the same time you don’t want him to have that clear path to be able to make pinpoint passes like he did (Sunday). That’s the toughest thing about Joakim when it comes to guarding him.”
Sullinger gets the honor of facing Noah again Monday, when the Celtics travel to Chicago for the second matchup in a home-and-home back-to-back. What a treat.