When news spread Monday afternoon that Boston Celtics top scorer Kyrie Irving wouldn’t play against the Chicago Bulls because of a sore knee, thoughts quickly drifted back to the Dec. 11 game at the United Center.
Irving didn’t play that night, either, and the Bulls rolled to an easy victory. It was the third step in the Bulls’ seven-game winning streak.
Clearly, the Celtics didn’t forget that poor performance. They seemed to bring an extra burst Monday night, determined not to let this one slip away and rolled to an easy 105-89 victory.
It was the Bulls’ 42nd loss, officially ending their run of nine straight seasons finishing .500 or better.
“Terrible all around,” said Zach LaVine, who hit just 1 of 11 shots for 4 points. “No excuse for what we did out there. It was just a bad game all around. … This won’t happen again.”
The final score was misleading. This game was absurdly easy for the Celtics, who jumped to a 26-5 advantage at the start, then survived 3½ quarters of garbage time. Once the outcome was decided, the Bulls won the fourth quarter 36-19.
The Bulls shifted their starting lineup for this one, adding Bobby Portis at center in place of Cristiano Felicio. Part of the Bulls’ plan seems to be making sure the changes cramp team chemistry, and it paid off. Boston attacked the paint relentlessly without a true center on defense.
“It’s really disappointing the way we came out of the gate,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “When things got tough and they got into us, we just kind of gave in and said, ‘OK, this is too hard for us tonight.’ ”
Offensively, the Bulls resorted to quick shots and never bothered trying to take advantage of potential mismatches with two outside shooting big men on the floor.
Portis scored 8 points, ending his run of double-digit games at 11. LaVine and Kris Dunn were both off-target, combining to shoot 4-for-21 from the field.
“You’d hope when things get tough for you on the offensive end, you’d find a way to make the multiple-effort plays defensively, to at least give yourself a chance to hang in there,” Hoiberg said. “But we didn’t. We gave them a 35-point first quarter. Offense, it was brutal, absolutely brutal.”
Slow starts have been common for the Bulls recently, but they usually battle back to make it competitive. Portis was a big part of that with his scoring off the bench. As part of the starting lineup Monday, he couldn’t do much to turn the tide.
“You could kind of see it on everybody’s face,” Portis said. “We didn’t really fight as much tonight. Normally, we get down we fight back and take the lead or make it a game. It was their game tonight.”
Denzel Valentine was the only Bulls player who seemed to be at his best, finishing with 20 points and tying a career high. Lauri Markkanen scored 12 points. Cameron Payne had a decent fourth quarter, scoring all 10 of his points.
“I thought he (Valentine) was really the bright spot for our team,” Hoiberg said. “When things get tough at times, that’s when the leader needs to emerge. Denzel was the guy who was trying to talk everyone through it.”
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls.