Celtics-Bulls takeaways: Horford, Hauser step up in ninth straight win

Celtics-Bulls takeaways: Horford, Hauser step up in ninth straight win originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Celtics had to work to earn their ninth consecutive victory Saturday night.

A pesky Chicago Bulls team kept it close with Boston for three-plus quarters at United Center, but the NBA’s best team pulled away late to secure a 124-113 win and improve to a league-leading 11-2 on the second night of back-to-backs.

Jayson Tatum (26 points, six assists), Sam Hauser (23 points) and Al Horford (23 points) paced a Celtics squad playing without three starters (Jaylen Brown, Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday) that hit 21 of 48 3-pointers (43.8 percent) to outlast Chicago, which trailed by just three points entering the fourth quarter and held a brief lead late in the third quarter.

DeMar DeRozan scored a game-high 28 points and the Bulls put seven players in double figures while shooting 57.3 percent from the floor. But the Celtics outscored Chicago 29-21 in the fourth quarter to improve to 2-0 on their six-game road trip and an NBA-best 57-14 record.

The C’s will travel to Atlanta on Monday to take on the Hawks, but before that matchup, here are three takeaways from Saturday’s victory in Chicago.

Tatum sets the tone

With the Celtics’ leading first-quarter scorer (Jaylen Brown) sidelined, Tatum took it upon himself to get the offense going.

The C’s star scored 10 of Boston’s 33 points in the first frame on 4 of 9 shooting, marking his fifth consecutive game with at least 10 first-quarter points, the longest such streak of his career.

Tatum kept the momentum going with nine second-quarter points to enter halftime with 19 points. And while he had a relatively quiet second half (seven points on 1 of 7 shooting), two of his teammates picked up his slack in a big way.

Horford, Hauser come up big

The Celtics needed secondary scoring with Brown, Porzingis and Holiday out due to injury, and two key role players obliged.

Al Horford and Sam Hauser combined for 46 points and 12 made 3-pointers in the victory, making the most of their insertion into the starting lineup.

Horford finished one point shy of a season high on 8 of 16 shooting while hitting 5 of 10 3-pointers — also his second-highest total of the season — and scored 12 third-quarter points to help the Celtics withstand a 32-point barrage from the Bulls.

Hauser, meanwhile, stayed red-hot from distance while hitting 7 of 8 3-pointers.

Hauser now has 21 3-pointers in his last three games, which is a new franchise record. The 26-year-old is shooting a blistering 53.5 percent since the All-Star break (46 for 86), which ranks first in the NBA among players with at least 30 attempts.

Hauser, with 6 three-pointers tonight, has 20 in his last 3 games. That breaks the Celtic record for 3-balls in a 3-game span (19), which was set by Tatum in January.

— Dick Lipe (@DickLipe) March 24, 2024

Kornet does the dirty work

This wasn’t the Celtics’ cleanest game by any means; they committed 12 turnovers and allowed 110-plus points for just the second time in their last five games. But they dominated in the second-chance and offensive-rebound categories — 23-2 and 12-3, respectively — thanks in large part to Kornet.

The veteran big man was a force on the boards with a season-high 13 rebounds, including five on the offensive glass. And those stats don’t account for several tip-outs to his teammates to keep offensive possessions alive.

Kornet also racked up eight points, four assists and two blocks and was rewarded for his hustle play in the fourth quarter with a perfect lob from Derrick White for the alley-oop slam.

While Tatum was Boston’s leading scorer, four Celtics outside the traditional starting five — Kornet, Hauser, Horford and Payton Pritchard, who added 15 points and a team-high eight assists — were the engines driving this victory.