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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Joe Cowley

Bulls bench takes a mob mentality in coming back to beat Celtics

The Celtics’ Malcolm Brogdon loses control of the ball off pressure from the Bulls’ Goran Dragic during the first half of Monday’s game. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

The Bulls’ starters have looked a bit disjointed through the first few games of the regular season.

That’s really not a surprise, given that players had been in and out of the starting lineup for most of camp.

The reserves, however, have been a different animal.

For the most part, the second unit has been intact since the start of camp. By all accounts, the reserves have played like a group of angry dogs against the first-teamers at every opportunity.

So a 19-point deficit in the first quarter Monday against the defending Eastern Conference champion Celtics proved to be no problem for the Bulls.

Thanks to players such as Goran Dragic, Derrick Jones Jr. and Alex Caruso, the Bulls watched what could have been a nightmare of an evening turn into a 120-102 laugher in their favor.

Coach Billy Donovan had little choice but to go to his bench with the way the game started.

In what only could be described as an exercise in futility, Donovan saw the Bulls fall behind 12-0. They eventually trailed by 19 with 3:32 left in the first quarter.

Frustrated with the effort he was seeing from his starters, Donovan turned to his reserves. Just like that, the game turned, too.

A three-pointer by Javonte Green with 1:43 left in the first quarter cut the deficit to 11, and the comeback was on.

By the time Jones made a layup minutes into the second quarter, the Bulls (2-2) had cut the lead to two. Dragic gave them the lead with a layup, and a 30-9 run was complete.

‘‘We just played as hard as we could,’’ Jones said of the comeback. ‘‘Got a lot more physical, just trying to be disruptive out there on defense. And once we got the lead, we didn’t look back.’’

Rather than crawling into the locker room at halftime, the Bulls could strut in. It was easy to figure out whom to thank.

Caruso was a plus-20 in the second quarter, and Dragic and Jones were each a plus-16. It didn’t hurt that Donovan staggered guard Zach LaVine into that group and watched him finish a plus-15.

The bench group turned the tide, and the Bulls’ momentum proved to have staying power. They outscored the Celtics 35-25 in the third quarter.

It was a great showing, but it was one that also will leave some questions about the starting group.

One of the major reasons the starters have been inconsistent is the amount of practice time they get with each other. Donovan has spoken about the load-management strategy the Bulls have been taking with LaVine in games, but lost in all that talk is the amount of time he has missed — and will continue to miss — when it comes to practices and shootarounds.

‘‘The good part of it is, he’s been in the league for a while; that helps,’’ Donovan said of LaVine and the ongoing concerns about his left knee. ‘‘I think he’s bright enough and smart enough where if his reps are limited, that at least gets him some.

‘‘Ideally, from a coaching perspective, you always want all your guys out there available, experiencing whatever you’re going through. But the situation is what it is. We’ve got to manage his health. That’s the most important thing. For us, it’s getting into that routine of what is best to keep him at a place where he’s feeling good. Certainly, the more load he has away from games, that’s the part that’s got to be managed.’’

Donovan already anticipated that LaVine would be limited in practice Tuesday, and he was taking a wait-and-see approach for the game Wednesday against the Pacers.

‘‘There has to be a balance of work,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘I’ve never been a believer that a guy can play a game, not do anything, then just go play the next game.’’

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