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Third quarter dooms Bulls in loss to Celtics

BOSTON — There were going to be consequences.

On Dec. 11, the Bulls welcomed the Kyrie Irving-less Celtics to the United Center and promptly took them to the woodshed, handing them their worst defeat of the season with a 23-point blowout.

Call Saturday at TD Garden payback.

Thanks to a third quarter in which they outscored the Bulls 38-18, the Celtics rolled to a 117-92 victory.

And Irving? Well, he played and played well, scoring 25 points on 9-for-15 shooting, including 5-for-7 from three-point range.

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Also call it the further education of Kris Dunn.

While Irving finished plus-33 in plus/minus, Dunn had one of his worst games with the Bulls. He shot 1-for-12 and was a minus-29.

‘‘We knew they were going to come out and be aggressive, try and get under us, because of that game [at the United Center],’’ Dunn said. ‘‘They did a good job of that. It’s something we’ve got to look at in the film and figure out how we can fight back when we get down.’’

As far as his showdown against Irving, Dunn had a plan. It just didn’t work out.

‘‘You know he’s good, there ain’t no secret to that,’’ Dunn said. ‘‘He shoots the ball well. Just try and make it difficult for him. That’s the only thing you can do.

‘‘Good players, if you just let them be all aggressive, it’s going to make them so comfortable that they think they can do anything on the court. You’ve got to try and bring it back to them, wear them down.’’

Dunn never got Irving anywhere near that point.

But it wasn’t just Dunn who took some bruises from the Celtics. Plenty of his teammates could shoulder some blame for the loss.

Rookie Lauri Markkanen was 4-for-10 shooting and a minus-31, and hot-shooting Nikola Mirotic was limited to nine points on 3-for-10 shooting.

‘‘That first half was a high-level first half by both teams,’’ Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, referring to the Celtics’ 60-58 lead at the break. ‘‘We come out [of the half] and give them a 13-2 run.

‘‘What I saw was kind of reverting back to what we did earlier in the season, kind of hanging our heads and [not] doing the things that got us 58 [first-half] points on the best defensive team in the league. Lost our movement, lost our pace, body language was very poor. It’s something we can definitely learn from.’’

Center Robin Lopez said he thought the Bulls would.

‘‘I don’t think that’s going to be a problem going forward,’’ Lopez said. ‘‘The mental makeup of our guys has been pretty fantastic.’’

Lopez also said that while the Celtics have a great lineup, he didn’t think a talent deficiency was to blame for the outcome.

‘‘That does happen in the league, for sure,’’ Lopez said when he was asked whether there are some nights that the talent of the opposing team is just too good to overcome. ‘‘I don’t know at this point, so soon after the game, that we’re ready to take that much of it out of our hands.

‘‘I think we all feel like there’s a lot that we could have done to secure that win for us. We feel like this one is on us. They didn’t do anything special. This one is on us.’’

 

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com