BOSTON — Even Celtics coach Brad Stevens was gushing over D.J. Augustin after the Bulls guard scored a career-high 33 points in a 107-102 win Sunday.
Stevens remembered watching Augustin in the Celtics’ season-opener against Toronto, where Augustin started the season.
“I just said on TV, ‘D.J. Augustin’s not the same person that I saw in a Raptors’ uniform at the start of the season,’” Stevens said after Sunday’s game, which Augustin sealed for the Bulls with 15 fourth-quarter points. “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 when he comes here.”
Augustin scored more than half of the Bulls’ 29 fourth-quarter points to hold off the Celtics.
A minute earlier, Celtics fans erupted when Jeff Green hit a fade-away, buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the corner, Boston’s third straight 3-pointer, to tie the game at 96.
Bulls guard Jimmy Butler then committed an offensive foul, but Brandon Bass missed a jump shot on the Celtics’ next possession, setting up Augustin’s big shot.
Isolated at the top of the 3-point arch, Augustin took a step toward the screen being offered by Joakim Noah, crossed over his dribble to fake out Rajon Rondo, shuffled to his left and then swished a 3-pointer — silencing the 18,624 in attendance at TD Garden.
Augustin then made six straight free throws to send Celtics fans to the exits.
“He was clicking tonight,” Bulls’ guard Kirk Hinrich said. “Every time it was going back and forth there, it got a little dicey, and he stepped up and made big shots, knocked down his free throws. That’s what he’s done for us all year.”
Augustin said he didn’t know that his 33 points were a career high until a few of his teammates told him. The sixth-year guard began his career with several strong seasons in Charlotte but was having difficulty sticking with a team until landing in Chicago, where he signed in December.
“Thibs, he calls a lot of plays for me to handle the ball,” Augustin said of Bulls’ coach Tom Thibodeau. “I just try to take advantage of whatever the defense gives me. If they back off me or go under screens, I’m gonna shoot it and just make plays for my teammates. And he gives me that confidence.”
From Thibodeau to Hinrich to Stevens to Celtics’ players, nobody was caught off guard by Augustin’s late-game shooting.
“It didn’t surprise us,” Celtics’ forward Jared Sullinger said. “We knew coming in he was the leading scorer on the team ... and he comes off the bench and looks to score. He had it going tonight, and he got comfortable. Once someone gets comfortable in this league, it’s really, really hard to make them uncomfortable.”
Rondo, whom Augustin fooled for the game-winning shot, agreed.
“He got in a rhythm,” Rondo said. “He did it so many different ways. He shot the ball, made free throws, made layups.”
Augustin averaged double digits in scoring in several of his first few seasons in Charlotte, where he was a main scoring option for a young, mostly bad team.
“They gave me the ball and I had to make plays for everybody,” Augustin said of his time with Charlotte. “Now, I’m finally getting a chance, legitimate minutes, getting the opportunity.”
Led by Augustin, the Bulls shot 53 percent Sunday and had five other players in double-figures: Butler (15), Carlos Boozer (14), Noah (13), Mike Dunleavy and Hinrich (11 each).
Chicago shot 55 percent in the first half and converted five of 10 3-point attempts, including two each for Butler and Augustin. But at halftime the Bulls led by only one.
Boston took the lead briefly in the third quarter and again midway through the fourth. The Bulls responded with a 7-0 run, but Boston then hit 3-pointers on three straight possessions — two by Green and one by Rondo — to tie the game.
“Every time we got a four- or five-point lead, we seemed to have a turnover or we had some sequences where I thought we clocked out and then we didn’t go after the ball,” Thibodeau said.
Thibodeau said he was most disappointed with the Bulls’ rebounding — Boston out-rebounded the Bulls, 39-31.
But Augustin’s effort made up for the Bulls being a step slow for the second straight game. In the season-opener against Boston with Toronto, the 6-foot guard played 13 minutes and scored five points. Fewer than five months later, he’s leading a playoff team in scoring, and making a game-winning shot doesn’t seem like a big surprise.
“I honestly didn’t think he had that kind of foot speed the first time we played him in the Raptors uniform,” Stevens said. “I thought differently when we played him in Chicago. Now I’ve watched him on film so I knew what was coming. But he’s playing great. He’s playing great. He’s found his niche. He’s found a team that needs him to play freely to score, and hats off to him ... Happy for him. Happy for stories like that.”