CHICAGO — Jayson Tatum released a third-quarter 3-pointer so errant that it clanged off the backboard, causing a sound so loud it could be heard in the 10th row. And the ball caromed down and into the basket, causing Tatum to smile as he ran down the floor.
The Celtics had not been getting offensive breaks through the first month of the season, a frustrated 10-10 team that wondered when its highly touted offense would finally begin to work proficiently. The signs of progress had been apparent lately, and on Saturday at United Center, the offense looked as flawless as it has all season.
And the results were record-setting.
Jumping out to a 17-0 lead, the Celtics hammered the overwhelmed Bulls, 133-77, the largest margin of victory in the team’s storied history and also the worst loss in the Bulls’ 52-year history.
Boston actually led by as many as 58 as it outscored Chicago, 69-34, in the second half using the fourth quarter as a 3-point shootout and slam-dunk display for the throng of Celtics faithful.
It was a dominant performance for a team that’s beginning to resemble the club expected to reach the NBA Finals. Jaylen Brown, in his second game back from a tailbone injury, led the Celtics with 23 points, 19 of those in the second half.
Daniel Theis got his first start since February with Al Horford (knee) and Aron Baynes (ankle) out, and he responded with a career-high 22 points with 10 rebounds and 5 assists. The Celtics led by 21 at halftime, 34 during the third quarter, and then 133-75 before Shaquille Harrison ended the night with a layup.
“We’re playing with more urgency,” guard Terry Rozier said. “Everybody flying around. At halftime we looked at our first possession on defense and they didn’t even touch the paint. We made it very difficult for them. That’s been the difference, is our energy. We’ve been playing well, super hot.”
About the Celtics running off five straight wins and quieting critics, Rozier said: “Everybody shut up. Very annoying.”
The energy was apparent from the opening tip, when the Celtics defense forced Lauri Markkanen to chuck up a 20-footer to beat the shot clock, the first of 11 consecutive Chicago misses to begin the game. Bulls new coach Jim Boylen, fed up with his starters, replaced all five at the 7:15 mark of the first period and the Celtics leading, 13-0.
He would do the same when Boston opened a 23-point lead in the third quarter.
“We have to be more about our effort on a nightly basis; we have to care more about playing for each other and I thought we didn’t do that,” Boylen said. “If I don’t like the five guys out [there] or don’t like that combination, I’m going to look at new combinations. We didn’t honor the game very well with our effort and competitiveness, so why not take them all out?”
The Celtics made 22 3-pointers, the second-highest total in franchise history; they shot 53.3 percent from the field, collected 34 assists on 50 made baskets and committed just seven turnovers. Theis was a whopping plus-50 in his 32 minutes.
“I’m a little tired,” he said laughing. “It’s been a while since I played that long but I feel great. Since the last five games, we’ve been moving the ball really well and that’s the way we should play. We have so many guys out there who can shoot, drive, find the next pass.”
Brown used the second half to show that he’s broken out of his early season doldrums. He was 8-for-10 shooting and hit all three of his 3-point attempts and played with the confidence and swagger of last season. Brown and Rozier (15 points, 8 rebounds) have been resurgent, which has helped boost the Celtics bench.
The Celtics have averaged 127.8 points during their five-game winning streak, a testament to their balance and depth.
“The offense has gotten better over the last couple of weeks,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “You kind of see the turning point when we went to Atlanta [Nov. 23] and I just thought we looked different with our pace, our tempo. We’re going to have a night where we don’t shoot it at all, and our defense is going to have to win the game for us. But we’re playing, we’re sharing, we’re not turning it over.”
The only downside from the win was a badly sprained right ankle suffered by big man Guerschon Yabusele during fourth-quarter garbage time. Yabusele landed on the foot of teammate Brad Wanamaker and rolled the ankle. He said an MRI and X-rays were negative but Stevens said he could “be out a while.”
The Celtics needed Yabusele to play major minutes because of the injuries to Horford and Baynes. Stevens feared the bigger Bulls would have the advantage in the paint but the Celtics’ early defense rattled the Bulls and they jumped out to the large lead and eventually cruised.
“We’re playing some good basketball,” Brown said. “I think we’re beating some teams that we’re supposed to beat. I think we’ve got a lot of talent and the right balance is working for us right now.”