The Bulls failed to accomplish that -- Jimmy Butler did try mightily, putting up a wild 3-point attempt off a Noah pass in the final seconds -- but the bigger story was that the Bulls had built a lead large enough that they could worry more about an assist than suffering another defeat. In a season where not much has come easily for the Bulls, they finally had a night where they could relax late and enjoy a 94-82 win over the Celtics at the United Center.
One game is just one game, and it doesn’t erase the fact the Bulls are still five games under .500, but there was some optimism in the Chicago locker room about their future after finally having a healthy lineup for two consecutive games.
“We feel great,” said Bulls forward Luol Deng, who saw his minutes restricted and finished with 14 points in 28 minutes, 38 seconds during his second game back from an Achilles injury. “We’re not happy with the record obviously. We feel great everyone coming back and just being healthy. I think our bench is going to be great for us once everyone is healthy.
“Guys have been hurt, so our rhythm has been off a little bit. But I really think that we’re going to have a great turnaround to our season as long as we stay healthy.”
There were signs of the Bulls locating some rhythm on Thursday. They had six players finish with between 10 and 17 points. Nine players had an assist, and the Bulls tallied 26 assists on 35 field goals. They also held the Celtics to 37 second-half points.
One noticeable difference from the Bulls’ loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday was how the Bulls closed out Thursday’s game stronger. The Celtics cut the Bulls’ lead to 66-62 with 1:12 left in the third quarter, and the Bulls embarked on an 11-0 run and went ahead 77-62 with 10:36 remaining in the fourth. Chicago didn’t lead by less than double digits the rest of the way.
Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy had a large hand in that surge, when he scored seven of his 11 points.
“That was big,” said Noah, who finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists. “That was huge. Dun made some huge moves. I think it was the third [quarter] he really got us going. That’s what we need. We need everyone to step up. Everybody has to play with high energy, give everything they got every night. Margin of error is a lot smaller with Pooh [Derrick Rose] gone.”
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau put his stamp of approval on the team’s performance as well.
“I liked the way we played,” Thibodeau said. “We got to get some quality practice together, which hopefully we can do. We have everyone back now. So we’re looking forward to the challenge ahead.”