OK, so maybe the Celtics were smart to rest Kyrie Irving against the Bulls. And smart to keep Marcus Smart as part of their second unit.
The Celtics didn’t need their elite point guard to crush the Bulls 105-89 on Monday night.
This one was over before new starter Bobby Portis broke a sweat.
The Celtics scored the first seven points and took a 26-5 lead on an Al Horford dunk.
“I’m really disappointed the way we came out of the gate,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Things got tough, and we shut down. We quit playing. … Our offense was brutal, absolutely brutal. We got stagnant, we quit moving. When things got tough, we just kind of gave in and said: OK, this is too hard for us. That was embarrassing the way we got outworked.”
Zach LaVine called the effort “terrible all around. No excuses for what we did.”
The score was 35-16 after a quarter that must have felt more like a five-hour flight to Hoiberg, who had to suffer through several indignities: His team allowed multiple alley-oops, letting the Celtics assist on 10 of their 15 baskets. On the other end, Cameron Payne surrendered the ball with no defenders on him.
The second quarter started with Denzel Valentine firing a behind-the-back pass to … no one. (He expected Cristiano Felicio to cut harder to the hoop.)
The Bulls trailed 55-29 at the break, leaving the court to a smattering of boos.
“When things got tough, we were stone-faced,” Hoiberg said. “We quit talking and competing.”
Said LaVine: “That’s what happens when you’re getting your ass whipped. We have to be better.”
The Bulls fell to 21-42, losing for the 14th time in their last 17 games as they kinda, sorta try to keep pace with the Nets, Hawks, Magic, etc.
No boost from Bobby: Portis, making his second start of the season, finished with just seven points and six rebounds in 27 minutes.
He got the nod partially as a reward for outplaying the low-post Felicio but more so because Hoiberg wanted to see how he’d mesh with LaVine, Kris Dunn, David Nwaba and Lauri Markkanen.
“We’re experimenting with different lineups,” Hoiberg said. “With Bobby and Lauri out there, we’re gonna be small, so we have to gang rebound, especially against a team with athletic wings (such as the Celtics). This gives us an opportunity to spread teams out, which is the direction the league is going. I’m excited to see what we have.”
That first unit got drubbed by a Celtics starting five that was devoid of Irving, who has knee soreness and could miss a few more games.
“It doesn’t sound like a long-term concern,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, “but he certainly could last throughout the week.”
Shane Larkin started at the point for the Celtics (45-20), playing 16 efficient minutes. He hit all three shot attempts — all 3s — and finished with four rebounds and four assists.
Hoiberg called Valentine (20 points, five rebounds, two assists) the lone bright spot. The 20 tied his career high, and he drained 4 of 6 from downtown.
“Denzel was out there competing, out there talking,” Hoiberg said.
Hard times: Nwaba airballed one from the foul line. Noah Vonleh went 1-for-7. LaVine had a rough night, hitting 1 of 11 from the field. He missed the rim on a corner 3, drawing some jeers.
LaVine had his first single-digit scoring game (four points) since Jan. 28 versus the Bucks but said he was not concerned about the misses: “You gotta take shots to make shots.”
Copy cat: Hoiberg called Stevens “one of the top minds in the game” and said, “I watch as much from their games as any (team) to pick some things up. We’re all stealing each other’s things, and I’ve added a lot of his wrinkles to our offense. He does a great job of spreading the floor. His spacing is impeccable. He’s great after timeouts. His late-game stuff is excellent.”
Hoiberg said he wants to incorporate elements of the Irving/Al Horford combo into the LaVine/Markkanen two-man game.
Rolling with the punches: Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic are both having career-best seasons »
Even as Bulls place premium on shooting, Denzel Valentine remains as reserve »
David Nwaba is making case to be long-term impact for Bulls »