CHICAGO — How does a team with the most wins in the NBA lose to a team with the fewest?
Maybe it was the absence of Kyrie Irving, or the fact that the Boston Celtics were playing their second game in as many nights, but games like Monday night’s don’t happen too often.
The Chicago Bulls routed the Celtics, handing the Eastern Conference’s best team a stunning 108-85 loss. The Bulls, winners of three in a row, have doubled their win total since last Friday when they were riding a 10-game losing streak. The Celtics dropped to 23-6.
The Bulls’ streak has also coincided with the return of Nikola Mirotic. The Bulls forward started in place of leading scorer rookie Lauri Markkanen, who was out with back spasms. It was his first start since returning from the facial fractures caused by Bobby Portis’ preseason punch.
Coincidentally, both were instrumental in the win.
“I love the confidence that (Mirotic) is playing with,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said Monday. “The chemistry that he and Bobby have had in that second unit has been really good. Both those guys have given us great minutes. … I really like the way those two guys have played together. You’ve got two skilled players in that second unit that have done a really good job of playing off each other.”
Publicly, the two have continued to support each other. Portis stepped into a 20-foot jumper with 8:24 left in the game to give the Bulls an 87-73 lead. Mirotic hit a three-pointer on the next possession, forcing a Celtics timeout, and Portis was there to greet his teammate with a fist bump. It wasn’t their only one of the night, either.
Portis finished 10-of-15 shooting for a season-high 23 points. Mirotic’s 24 on 9-of-14 shooting were also a season-high.
In a rebuilding season that quickly went sideways with the drama, it was as impressive a win as the Bulls have had all year.
The Celtics’ defense, which entered as the NBA’s best, allowed 48% shooting, including 12-of-29 from three-point range.
Both teams have taken significantly divergent paths since meeting in the first round of last year’s postseason. The Bulls were up 2-0 in that series before dropping four in a row, which eventually led to a massive change in the franchise’s direction. The Celtics, who made wholesale changes of their own when they dealt Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to the Cleveland Cavaliers, have reinvented themselves around Irving, who sat with a sore quad.
“The NBA can change every day,” Stevens said before tip-off. “I don’t think any of us get too far outside of the moment. I look at it as we’re playing the Chicago Bulls tonight, who have won two straight games and whatever records may be on either side, it doesn’t matter. You have to play well.”
The Celtics learned that reality the hard way.
Follow Michael Singer on Twitter @msinger.
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