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This redemptive romp over the Bulls was a testament to the Celtics’ stunning turnaround

Turnabout was fair play for the Celtics as the sullen Chicago Bulls watched helplessly from their bench as Boston romped to its 50th win of the season, the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, and a 117-94 victory Wednesday night at the United Center in Chicago.Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

There was a semblance of redemption for the Celtics Wednesday night at United Center, as they completely dominated and overwhelmed a Chicago Bulls team that in November took the heart out of them with a 19-point, fourth-quarter rally in a 128-114 loss.

That Nov. 1 setback at TD Garden was one of the more painful of the season; a collapse the Celtics promised would not define them. And while their resurrection has taken months, and that loss is considered ancient history, the Celtics’ 117-94 win over the Bulls was a testament to their stunning turnaround.

The Celtics were completely prepared for this prime matchup with the Bulls, a must-win if they hoped to claim the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and avoid a first-round playoff matchup with the Toronto Raptors.


The Eastern Conference is so close and so confounding the Celtics can’t possibly handpick their opponent, even with two games left in the season. Their only resort is to try to win them all, and send some messages while they’re at it.

Wednesday’s game revealed how much the Celtics have risen and how much the Bulls, who were in the top four in the East for most of the season, have fallen. They have virtually clinched the sixth seed.

And they were able to snatch Game 1 of this season-ending three-game road trip while limiting the minutes of Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Marcus Smart. The Celtics never trailed and were never really threatened after a second-quarter run pushed the lead to 18, 67-49.

Marcus Smart drives past Chicago's Patrick Williams during the first half of Wednesday's game.Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

The Bulls looked like a team that’s disheveled and exhausted because of injuries and lacking the ability to compete with the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Don’t think the Celtics didn’t have that Nov. 1 game on their minds or wanted to prove they’re among the elite teams in the conference after dropping that showdown against the Miami Heat last week.


What Wednesday night proved is that coach Ime Udoka’s team no longer eases into games. The Celtics no longer get punched first or play to the level of their opponent. They conducted business on this business trip, putting the game away early, taking all the stress and suspense out of what was supposed to be a difficult game.

“We’re a different team than we were in November, completely different,” Horford said. “I’m not going to say [Nov. 1] was the turning point for us, that we didn’t want to have that happen again. But I do think we continued to work to figure out who we were and it was [early February] when we started to understand who we needed to be. From that point forward, I feel like we made steps in that area.

“We’re really locking in when we have those positions, those leads.”

The Milwaukee Bucks are the next opponent and the Celtics will bus 70 miles north for what is supposed to be another showdown with playoff-seeding implications, depending on if either team decides to play its frontline players.

But Wednesday night was just another example that the Celtics shouldn’t fear any first-round opponent. Toronto will be a handful, but the shorthanded Celtics should have beaten the Raptors last week at Scotiabank Center before losing in overtime, 115-112.

The Brooklyn Nets can score with anyone, but they don’t stop anyone either. It’s time to stop considering them a juggernaut because of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but just another talented but flawed team in the East.


What the Celtics have done in this run of 32 wins in 41 games is establish themselves as a mature team, one that takes these types of challenges seriously and plays its hardest, if not always its best.

“That [Nov. 1] game is going to stick with us forever,” Smart said. “It’s something that kind of fueled and started the talks to get back on track. When we lost that game, everybody counted us out; we was getting it harsh. Having that in the back of our mind, obviously [Wednesday night] but every game we play, we try not to let that [collapse] happen. We wanted to make sure from every game on, that we don’t put ourselves in that situation again.”

Udoka’s goal in the final two weeks of the season was to prepare his team for the postseason and to adjust to life without center Robert Williams. The Celtics are soaring, transforming themselves into a different, but effective, defensive team while scoring with relative ease.

The Celtics scored 117 with Tatum hitting just five shots. Recently-acquired Derrick White is beginning to hit those open shots he missed when he came to Boston. Daniel Theis is adjusting to increased minutes and a bigger role nicely.

The Celtics’ primary ambition is not necessarily winning their remaining two games, but getting the proper rest and maintenance for Tatum, Brown, and others while playing with fortitude and purpose. That’s what they’ve done in the past few months, and that’s what makes them a legitimate contender for the NBA Finals.


Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.