Zach LaVine was right where he belonged.
Or at least where he felt he belonged: on the court, with the game still up for grabs, ball in hand.
It was a different scenario from three nights earlier, when coach Billy Donovan sat LaVine late in a loss to the Magic, which obviously led to some hurt feelings.
“You play a guy like me down the stretch,” LaVine said afterward.
With the Celtics chipping away at the Bulls’ lead Monday and 3:44 left in the game, LaVine made a 29-footer to all but gut-punch the comeback. Alex Caruso’s reverse layup 40 seconds later made it a 15-point lead, and the Bulls went on to beat the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics 121-107.
No big deal? Wrong, it was very big.
Not only did it snap a four-game losing streak for the Bulls (7-10), but it ended a nine-game winning streak for the Celtics. The Bulls have handed the Celtics two of their four losses this season.
LaVine had 22 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals.
“I thought [LaVine] played a great game,” Donovan said. “I have an enormous amount of confidence in his ability to shoot the ball. He generated a lot of open shots for our guys. He’s unselfish from that standpoint. His fingerprints were all over the game in a lot of ways.”
LaVine was just glad they were also all over the game late.
“I just went out there and played hard,” LaVine said. “I just tried to be active, and I think it showed.”
But early on, it had all the makings of another bad night for LaVine. There were definite signs of a Magic hangover.
By the time the first quarter came to an end, the Bulls had a five-point lead, but LaVine was only 1-for-6 from the field, including 1-for-4 from three-point range. That gave the max-contract guard an ugly-looking five straight quarters in which he shot a combined 2-for-20 from the field and 1-for-9 from long range.
It was further proof that LaVine still wasn’t close to right after undergoing offseason surgery on his left knee. Even he admitted that the explosion hasn’t been there, especially around the rim.
“I’m trying to get all the way back,” LaVine said. “It’s frustrating being able to get to the rim and then missing bunnies. I’ve had a lot of drives where I get there and I do finish acrobatically or get all the way to the top, get over the rim. So it’s coming back.”
He made that clear in the second quarter, taking a Coby White pass, cocking it behind his head with one hand and slamming it down for one of his more athletic moves of the season.
It was a vintage LaVine move on a night in which he was still inconsistent.
His hope was that it was another indication that it’s coming.
“You gotta have thick skin,” LaVine said. “You gotta be able to forget fast.”
Especially with the schedule the Bulls have coming up.
The Celtics game was the last time they’ll play in Chicago until Dec. 7. They start a six-game road trip in Milwaukee on Wednesday, then head to Oklahoma City, Utah, Phoenix, Golden State and Sacramento. They’ll do so searching for a consistent offensive identity.
“We’re trying to find it,” LaVine said. “It’s frustrating trying to catch that rhythm. You got to call it black and white. We don’t look great out there at times, and we got to figure it out.”
For one night, they did.