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With fans back in the United Center, Bulls beat up Celtics

Nikola Vucevic recorded his fourth career triple-double to lead a frontcourt that put in the dirty work against the Celtics.

Now it’s the Pistons on Sunday.

That’s the challenge Bulls guard Zach LaVine laid at the feet of his teammates after his return to the court Thursday against the Hornets.

‘‘We’ve got to try to win every game,’’ he said. ‘‘‘I think we’ve got to look for the next one.’’

‘‘The next one’’ when he said that was Friday against the Celtics. Put a check next to that box after the Bulls’ 121-99 victory.

Thanks to Nikola Vucevic’s fourth career triple-double and 25 points apiece from LaVine and Coby White, the Bulls stayed alive in the chase for the final play-in spot in the Eastern Conference. They trail the Wizards by three games with five to play.

The Bulls’ problem is their opponents in those five games. After the Pistons, they host the Nets and Raptors, visit the Nets, then host the Bucks.

But while coach Billy Donovan understood where LaVine was coming from, he pointed out the Bulls might not reach the play-in tourament even if they win out.

‘‘In all reality, we really don’t control our destiny,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘What we have to do is control what we can control. Obviously, the more games we can win and be competitive in, the better. But I don’t know if right now I look at it as we’ve got to win out.

‘‘I think when you start looking at the totality of what we have remaining and the quality of teams . . . I don’t think you can be so forward-thinking and lose sight of what’s in front of you now.’’

Against the Celtics, the Bulls welcomed fans back to the United Center for the first time since the coronavirus shutdown on March 10 of last season.

‘‘When it’s your own crowd and you haven’t seen them for so long — and we all know how much Bulls fans and Bulls nation comes out to support us — it was great to see fans in the arena,’’ LaVine said.

And it was great for the almost 4,000 in attendance to see the Bulls win.

Through the first half and into the third quarter, the Bulls’ big men were dominating the Celtics. How desperate did the Celtics get in trying to counter that? Tacko Fall desperate, that’s how much.

After Vucevic made a 10-footer with 5:19 left in the third, Celtics coach Brad Stevens turned to the raw 7-5 Fall to try to cut into the 13-point deficit. It didn’t have the effect Stevens was hoping for, and the Bulls led by 20 going to the fourth.

Vucevic was an assist away from a triple-double after three, and frontcourt reserves Lauri Markkanen and Thad Young were a combined plus-29.

The problem was that the Celtics had come back from 32 points down to beat the Spurs last week and that the Bulls are no strangers to fourth-quarter collapses.

The Celtics scored the first eight points of the fourth, forcing Donovan to call a timeout with the lead down to 12. But after the Celtics had cut the deficit to eight, Vucevic, LaVine and White took over and slammed the door in impressive fashion.

‘‘I wish we played like that from the get-go,’’’ LaVine said, referring to the stumbles he, White and Vucevic had when they first came together after the trade deadline in March. ‘‘I think we’d be looking at a totally different scenario. But this is the position we’ve put ourselves in.’’