Top Takeaways from Jayson Tatum, Celtics' Win vs. DeMar DeRozan, Bulls
Wednesday night's matchup between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls was supposed to be a showdown between two Eastern Conference heavyweights.
But the Celtics sprinted to a 32-19 advantage in the first quarter, and it wasn't much of a fight after that. Boston never trailed in the contest and eventually cruised to a 117-94 triumph.
The Celtics' starting five had more than the Bulls could handle, even while Jayson Tatum endured a 5-of-18 shooting performance (1-of-8 from three). But his co-star, Jaylen Brown, picked up the slack with 25 points on 10-of-21 shooting, and the frontcourt combo of Al Horford and Daniel Theis chipped in a combined 32 points on 13-of-19 shooting.
The Bulls never got it going on offense. DeMar DeRozan was their high scorer with only 16 points. Zach LaVine was held to single-digits for the first time all season (not counting the Jan. 14 contest he exited after only three minutes with a knee injury). Collectively, Chicago shot just 43.8 percent from the field and went 7-of-23 from long range.
Celtics Maintaining Without Robert Williams III so Far
The loss of starting center—and Defensive Player of the Year candidate—Robert Williams III to a torn meniscus still casts an ominous cloud over the Celtics, but they have mostly managed to mask his absence so far.
Boston is only 3-2 since he went down, but the losses were by a combined 11 points to the top-seeded Miami Heat and fifth-seeded Toronto Raptors. Those are excusable defeats even for a full-strength squad.
The last two wins were by a combined 65 points, starting with Sunday's 144-102 blowout over the Washington Wizards. The last two margins obviously help pad this stat, but it still feels worth noting that in the time Williams has missed, the Celtics sit second overall with a plus-12.0 net efficiency rating, per NBA.com.
Boston will need Williams to pursue its biggest ambitions, but the Celtics could manage to win a first-round series without him.
Tatum and Brown make the short list of the league's top tandems, and the deadline deal for Theis provided Boston with protection for this very scenario. Between him, Horford and Grant Williams, the Celtics have options to fill the center spot.
Bulls Might Be Running out of Gas
At one point this season, the Bulls were busy rubbing elbows with the Eastern Conference's elite. Now, they're sitting closer to the Play-In Tournament participants than they are the teams at the top.
Injuries have taken their toll on this roster. The fact that Lonzo Ball won't return from a meniscus tear might have sucked the air out of the Windy City, since his defensive versatility, distributing and spot-up shooting had enjoyed a hand-in-glove fit during his debut season with the Bulls.
But it's not only Ball.
LaVine has been fighting against left knee soreness, and it might be sapping some of his offensive superpowers. Over his last 10 outings, he's down to a 42.6/34.3/82.4 shooting slash. Patrick Williams continues trying to knock off the rust after missing nearly five months after wrist surgery. Energizer Alex Caruso missed Wednesday's game with a back injury and is shooting just 32.4 percent since returning from a broken wrist.
Chicago just hasn't been right for a while now. Dating back to Jan. 12, they've gone just 18-24 with the league's eighth-worst net rating, per NBA.com.
The Bulls don't have enough time left to regain their momentum in the regular season, so they'll have to hope their swagger returns in the postseason.