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A lethargic start against the Bulls led to the end of the Celtics’ nine-game winning streak

The Bulls controlled the boards, out-rebounding Boston 51-38, as the Celtics struggled to match Chicago's energy.Michael Reaves/Getty

CHICAGO — Celtics forward Jayson Tatum was finishing his postgame interview in the bowels of the United Center late Monday night when a loud crashing noise came from an adjacent room. It was sort of what a bunch of large metal bowls being dropped onto a cement floor might sound like.

Tatum looked toward the din and cracked half of a smile.

“Damn!” he yelled.

And that’s how Celtics fans might have felt on this uneventful night, too.

Boston fell behind the Bulls early and spent most of the night trying to dig out of big deficits. There were times when it appeared they would, but they never crafted a game-defining run. The Bulls eventually seized a 121-107 win that snapped their four-game skid as well as Boston’s nine-game winning streak.


“I thought we didn’t come out and play with the energy we needed to,” Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “They came out and they were ready to play. They were going through some things over there, so I think they’re trying to get more locked in, trying to win some games. I think their back is against the wall so they played with urgency tonight and I don’t think we did.”

Malcolm Brogdon celebrates a second-half bucket with teammates Al Horford and Jayson Tatum Monday night against Chicago.Michael Reaves/Getty

On Oct. 24, the Celtics (13-4) came to this building and were walloped by 18 points. Entering Monday’s rematch, that remained their only loss in regulation this year. The good news is they do not return to Chicago this season, but they certainly wish they’d had better results here against a Bulls team that has been one of the NBA’s most disappointing.

Chicago lost at home to the lowly Magic on Friday, and afterward star guard Zach LaVine voiced his displeasure about being benched during the loss. It seemed that this team was on the brink of spiraling even further.


Instead, it bounced back and wiped away the Celtics’ streak before it could turn into something bigger.

“They obviously haven’t been playing well,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “They did a great job just kind of being the desperate team, the hungrier team. They wanted the win to feel good about themselves and I thought we at times throughout the game just kept chipping away, chipping away at it. Then we just kind of lost it at the end.”

The Celtics have the league’s top-ranked offense in large part because they have several players who are shooting well above their career averages from beyond the arc. They insist that is because of the quality of looks they are getting, but it’s also likely there will be some regression.

Although the Celtics finished a respectable 19 for 50 from the 3-point line, they were just 8 for 26 in the first half, when Chicago seized control.

“I think we’re such a high-level shooting team from the arc,” Brogdon said. “We rely on that. We need more balance, especially if those threes aren’t falling. If we’re not making shots out there we’ve got to be able to play outside the arc and still defend. That’s one thing that can’t slip.”

Mazzulla said plenty of the first-half attempts were uncontested, and he wants his players to shoot them every time. Yes, sometimes they’ll miss.

“What happens is, if you don’t get out in transition and you don’t get easy ones to feel it, it’s going to put a lot more pressure on your defense,” Mazzulla said. “I thought throughout the year when shots weren’t falling we did a great job of continuing to play. I thought tonight it just waned a little bit.”


Joe Mazzulla directs the action in the second half of Monday's loss in Chicago.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Tatum had 28 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists to lead Boston. Jaylen Brown had 25 points and Brogdon added 23. DeMar DeRozan had 28 points to lead the Bulls, who made 51.7 percent of their shots and 48.3 percent of their 3-pointers.

The Celtics trailed by as many as 21 points in the third quarter and appeared on the edge of being finished off several times. But Brogdon, playing in his second game after being sidelined because of hamstring soreness, provided a spark.

Over a stretch of just over two minutes, the guard drilled two 3-pointers and converted a 3-point play, helping pull Boston within 95-87. The Bulls steadied themselves and pushed the lead back to double digits, with Celtics turnovers causing several mild runs to stall.

“We should’ve known a little bit better that they haven’t felt great recently and were — not desperate — but they came out and played like they really wanted to win,” Tatum said.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.