On baseball’s Opening Day, the Bulls (42-32) were forced to endure the drudgery of a back-to-back game against the team they just beat on the road the previous evening and while it certainly appeared as if they sleepwalked through the contest’s first three quarters, they turned it on at the end, pulling away from the Celtics (23-51) for a 94-80 victory Monday night at the United Center.
Jimmy Butler (18 points, four rebounds, four assists) was the Bulls’ catalyst in the early going, as the swingman knocked down a trio of old-fashioned, two-point jumpers to build an early advantage.
The forward tandem of Duke products Carlos Boozer (16 points, seven rebounds) and Mike Dunleavy Jr. (22 points) also made contributions, but the Celtics kept the contest within striking distance, as Jerryd Bayless (18 points), starting in place of the sidelined Rajon Rondo—the All-Star point guard, coming off recovery from ACL surgery, doesn’t play in the second half of back-to-back games; instead, he provided TV analysis for Comcast SportsNet New England during a portion of the contest—and big man Kris Humphries got it going offensively. It remained a tight-knit affair and at the conclusion of the first quarter, the Bulls held a 25-24 lead.
[WATCH: Benny the Bull spill popcorn on Rajon Rondo during live broadcast]
Led by veteran Brandon Bass (18 points), Boston went on an 8-0 run to begin the second period, prompting a timeout by an obviously disappointed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. The Bulls subsequently rallied back to close the gap, aided by the play of All-Star center Joakim Noah (19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, two blocked shots, two steals) and the reserve duo of Taj Gibson (14 points, 11 rebounds) and D.J. Augustin (11 assists), the latter of whom excelled as a playmaker after a career-high scoring outing.
But the Bulls trailed at the intermission, 50-48, as the Celtics got a lift from rookie reserves Kelly Olynyk and Phil Pressey.
After the break, the close-knit nature of the affair persisted. Boozer and Noah continued to make their respective presences felt on the interior, complemented by the perimeter play of wings Dunleavy and Butler.
For the Celtics, Bass was the focal point, as the rugged power forward kept Boston afloat. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls clung to a 71-70 advantage.
The Bulls extended what was a slim winning margin to double digits at the outset of the fourth quarter by virtue of a 13-0 run keyed by Dunleavy’s perimeter marksmanship and punctuated by a Gibson dunk over Humphries. A Boston timeout midway through the spurt didn’t do much to quell the Bulls’ momentum,
A dominant defensive performance, coupled with efficient offense and solid rebounding effectively put away the contest for the Bulls, though there was plenty of time left to play. As the game entered its stretch run, Noah functioned as the Bulls' primary scorer to close things out, sweeping the home-and-home series with Boston.