The Celtics displayed the defensive intensity that has made them defending NBA champions in taking a 96-80 win over the Chicago Bulls last night.
It also helped that the Bulls performed like a masquerading professional team before a costumed Halloween crowd, which started dashing for the exits as the Celtics' starters departed midway through the final quarter.
"We wanted to establish ourselves defensively," said Paul Pierce. "We felt like in Game 1 [a 90-85 win over Cleveland Tuesday] we didn't do that. [We know] that they have a young and talented team, and if you give them any confidence, especially early in the game, you are in for a long night. So, we wanted to set the tone early with defense and we were able to do that."
The Celtics picked up where they left off in limiting Cleveland to 35 second-half points in the opener, the Bulls finishing the first half with 31 points.
The fast start allowed the Celtics' starters to pace themselves in preparation for a three-game road trip, starting tonight at Indiana. Pierce (14 points) became the final starter to depart (with 6:03 remaining) after playing 34 minutes. No other starter played more than 30.
The Bulls' dysfunctional offense and self-destructive tendencies played into the Celtics' hands. Chicago rookie Derrick Rose (18 points, one assist) was able to create offense for himself, but struggled to direct the team in a half-court set.
"The first five, six minutes were great execution and intensity," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "It was perfect for us early on. We attacked loose balls, were taking charges, had a lot of digs. It was a great energy game for us. It's nice to see. It's a good way of playing before you go on the road."
Chicago did not have a field goal attempt connect with the net until Luol Deng's 17-footer cut the deficit to 13-8. The Bulls were 0 for 8 from the field until a goaltending call on Kendrick Perkins 5:41 into the game. And the Bulls concluded the quarter as Joakim Noah's follow rolled off the rim, their 19th miss in 23 attempts.
The Celtics' reserves set a similar tone to start the second quarter, the Bulls failing to convert a field goal for 4:42. The Bulls concluded the half with more fouls (15) than field goals (10 for 45), and nearly as many turnovers (nine). The Celtics took a 49-31 lead on Rajon Rondo's two free throws with seven seconds remaining.
"We were just an active team," Rivers said. "And offensively, there was a stretch in the first half, it was beautiful. The ball was moving, everybody was touching it, it was tough to double. That's how we have to play. We play like that on most nights, we're pretty good.
"I don't think we can intimidate a team but I think you can clearly frustrate them if you play well enough, defensively and offensively. It's got to be both. You've got to have balance and I thought we had great balance for a stretch. The last quarter and a half was not great, but that's fine."
A blowout was not unexpected. The Celtics have won five successive times against the Bulls, and last season their average margin of victory over Chicago was 18.3 points.
But the Celtics' sense of purpose early on was a key to resting the starters. Rondo played 30 minutes, Ray Allen 28, Perkins 28, and Kevin Garnett 26.
In the Celtics' opener, the combination of a banner-raising adrenaline rush and an emotional pregame discourse by Pierce led to an uneven start.
This time, after Pierce committed a charging foul on the first possession, the Celtics relied on composure and teamwork.
Every Celtic starter had scored after Perkins provided an 11-4 lead with 7:27 remaining in the first quarter.
"I thought I was a lot more under control," said Garnett (17 points). "I told [Pierce] I put a lot of burden on he and Ray in the first game. But tonight, I felt a lot more poised. I was doing the small things, getting open, I was very active on defense, getting my hands on loose balls. In a crazy way, that got me going offensively."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.