January 8, 2016 / 6:58 AM / 3 years ago

Defensive-minded Bulls top Celts for sixth in a row

(The Sports Xchange) - The Chicago Bulls are becoming an offensive juggernaut but they are quick to credit their defense for a season-high six-game winning streak and a rapid rise up the NBA’s scoring rankings.

Jan 7, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) drives to the basket against Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) during the second half at United Center. The Bulls won 101-92. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Once again the Bulls created an offensive surge by playing better defense in a 101-92 victory against the Boston Celtics on Thursday at the United Center.

Trailing 43-33 late in the second quarter, Chicago outscored Boston 15-4 in the final four minutes to grab a 48-47 halftime lead and roll to a comfortable win.

“That’s what really won us the game,” Jimmy Butler said of the Bulls’ defensive uptick. “We were out there guarding, we rebounded, and we got a lot of easy baskets. When we’re playing like that, we look really good out there.”

Butler and Pau Gasol each had double-doubles to lead the Bulls (22-12), who had six players score in double figures — including all five starters. Butler had 19 points and 10 assists, while Gasol totaled 17 points and 18 rebounds for his 19th double-double this season.

The Celtics (19-17) were coached by assistant Jay Larranaga while head coach Brad Stevens visited Andrew Smith, a former player of his from Butler University who is hospitalized in Indiana with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Larranaga, 40, got his first taste of running an NBA bench after joining the Celtics in 2012 as an assistant.

“Brad always says that the focus is to win the next game, one possession at a time, and that’s really how I approached it,” said Larranaga.

“I was obviously thinking about Brad and wanting to represent him well and our players ... wanting to do right by them.”

Seven Celtics players finished with double-digit points, including all five starters. Jae Crowder (17 points) and Kelly Olynyk (16 points) led the way for Boston, who have dropped their last two games and four of their past five.

Chicago got additional double-digit scoring from Derrick Rose (18 points), Nikola Mirotic (11 points), Taj Gibson (10 points) and Tony Snell (10 points).

All six of the Bulls’ wins in the streak have come against Eastern Conference opponents, and Chicago improved to 13-8 against the East.

“(Defense) is a difference-maker for us,” Gasol said. “Offensively, we’re going to be fine, because have a lot of talent and a lot of weapons.

“It’s when we play defensively the way we need to, when we communicate and get into people, when we box out, when we help each other out ... then we can beat anybody.”

Isaiah Thomas (14 points), Jared Sullinger (13 points), Amir Johnson (12 points), Evan Turner (10 points) and Marcus Smart (10 points) also reached double figures for the Celtics.

The Bulls, who came into the game ranked ninth in the NBA with an average of 102.2 points a game, scored 100-plus points in their ninth straight outing.

Boston used an early 12-3 run to spark a 27-21 lead after the first and led for most of the second quarter. It did not hold up, as the Bulls turned up the heat defensively to seize the lead by halftime and keep going.

“They had a big second quarter,” Crowder said. “Things kind of changed at that point. After the half, we came back a little sluggish and then couldn’t get it back until the fourth quarter, which was a little too late.”

Editing by Peter Rutherford

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