The NBA is just an odd place sometimes.
How else would you explain what the shorthanded Boston Celtics did to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night?
The Celtics traveled to the United Center without Rajon Rondo and Marcus Smart and proceeded to knock off the Bulls — a team many pick to win the Eastern Conference this season — by a final score of 106-101.
Brad Stevens’ club led by as many 19 and withstood a furious, Aaron Brooks-powered comeback in the fourth quarter to hold off the Bulls. Brooks, who’s with his fifth team in four years (including a stint in China), scored a game-high 26 points, including 19 in the fourth quarter, before fouling out in the final minute.
“We had to play great tonight, and we did for the better part of the game,” Stevens told reporters after the game. “Then, Aaron Brooks went nuts at the end. You knew they were going to make a run. I’m just glad we didn’t play a 49-minute game.”
— Evan Turner, starting at point guard in Rondo’s absence, had his best game of the season. Turner (19 points, six assists, five rebounds) finished with season highs in every offensive category and helped put the game away with two late free throws.
— The Celtics raced out to a 15-point lead at halftime — and we do mean race. Fifteen of their 17 fast-break points came in the first two quarters.
— Stevens said before the game that he wanted Phil Pressey to fill Smart’s role. He probably didn’t want Pressey to emulate Smart’s 3-point shooting habits, though. The second-year guard front-rimmed his first four 3-point attempts before finally sinking his fifth.
While Pressey didn’t factor much into the scoring, he did dish out a number of sweet passes (like the one seen below) to finish with four assists.
— Tyler Zeller — the beneficiary of several Pressey passes — continues to impress down low for Celtics. Zeller turned in his best offensive showing of the season (10 points on 4-of-5 shooting), but Stevens was more impressed with his play on the defensive end against a talented Bulls frontcourt that includes All-Stars in Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Taj Gibson.
“I asked Tyler (on Friday) if he’s ever been subbed in for defense and out for offense in his life,” Stevens said. “He said no, and he followed that up with a big smile. He’s playing great, and he’s getting a feel for us offensively, but defense is where his presence is most felt right now, because we need his size and his work on the glass.”
Six of Zeller’s seven rebounds came on the defensive end.
— Speaking of rebounds, Kelly Olynyk grabbed two huge ones in the game’s final 22 seconds. The first came — off a Turner miss — came after the Bulls had made it a one-possession game. Olynyk muscled his way into the paint, wrangled the ball and dished back to Turner, who ended the possession with two free throws. The second came on the very next possession, with Olynyk himself nailing the ensuing free throws.
Overall, Olynyk grabbed 11 boards — tied with Noah for the game high — to go along with 18 points for his second double-double in two games.
Thumbnail photo via Matt Marton/USA TODAY Sports Images