1-2 punch: Mirotic, Portis combine for 47 points in rout of Celtics
No Kyrie Irving and no Marcus Morris for Boston on Monday.
And not one tear was going to be shed.
Definitely not from the last-place Bulls, who have already had their share of injuries this season, suffered a handful of blowouts, made headlines with one teammate punching another, and were well-versed in the idea that no one feels sorry for you in the NBA.
So how did they greet the 23-5 first-place Celtics at the United Center?
Nikola Mirotic loved every minute of the 108-85 win.
“We’re going to go 3-0,’’ Mirotic said before the game, continuing to insist that his return from the Oct. 17 practice altercation with teammate Bobby Portis was going to start the turnaround for the Bulls (6-20) this season.
Maybe Mirotic is onto something, however.
Starting for Lauri Markkanen (sore back), Mirotic has now played in three games, and the Bulls have won all three.
This latest showing by the fourth-year forward was definitely his best, as he played 32 minutes, scored 24 points, and grabbed eight rebounds.
As for Portis, the player Mirotic also wanted sent elsewhere after the punching incident? He continued to play well, especially when Mirotic is on the floor with him, finishing with a career-high 23 points in his latest showing.
“We’ve been very professional,’’ Mirotic said of how he and Portis have handled things on the court. “Both of us. Like I said the first day when I [spoke to the media], it was not the moment to think about what happened and to talk about it. My only goal was to get back and help the team to win. So far we’ve had great chemistry, the team, and Bobby and I are playing good. We’re finding each other during the game and bringing the energy that the team needs. So I think we’re in a good way. We can’t relax now. This is the time we need to grow.’’
No one is enjoying that more than coach Fred Hoiberg, who knows the situation could have gone really wrong with Mirotic’s return.
“Niko’s been awesome,’’ Hoiberg said. “Obviously an understatement in getting him back and winning all three games.
“They’re both pros. They’re both guys that are going to go out and play with great passion and emotion. Again, you can see it with the way they’re playing off of each other out there. I love the way those guys are playing together. It’s been fun, it’s been fun to watch.’’
Although the Celtics didn’t have that much fun, especially in the second quarter when the Bulls blew the game open, outscoring the visiting team 28-13. Portis had 12 of those points.
“I mean, I don’t want to keep talking about me and Niko,’’ Portis said after. “We’re just playing our games, playing off each other and just trying to play within Fred’s offense. Our second unit has been clicking real well. It’s been fun.’’
It’s also been a nice mix, as Portis and Mirotic have looked very much in sync. When Portis rolls, Mirotic knows to pop outside. When Mirotic is down low, Portis is finding his spot outside.
And in between good plays there’s even fist-pumps to each other even if they still haven’t had any conversations off the court.
“Why?’’ Mirotic said, when asked why it’s worked. “Because every day we have to be better. We have to give that credit to Fred because Fred is the guy that is making us play. He is calling the plays for us and putting us in the right spot to play.’’