Nikola Mirotic chose his words carefully after he and Bobby Portis helped the Chicago Bulls slug the Boston Celtics on Monday night.
Just three games back from facial fractures, the result of a punch Portis threw during practice on Oct. 17, Mirotic took the high road after scoring a season-high 24 points in the Bulls’ stunning 108-85 win over the Celtics.
“I think we’ve been very professional, both of us,” Mirotic said. “Like I said the first day when I (talked to the media), it was not a moment to think what happened and the time to talk about it. My only goal was to get back and to try and help the team to win. I think so far we are having great chemistry, I mean the team, together. And Bobby and I, yeah, we are playing good. I think we are finding each other during the game and we are bringing that energy the team needs. I think we are in a good way.”
Since Mirotic’s return, the Bulls are 3-0 and have doubled their win total to six. Their first winning streak of the season also stayed intact thanks to a career-high 23 points from Portis.
“I don’t want to keep talking about me and Niko,” Portis said. “We’re just going out there, playing our games. Playing off each other. It’s good for our second unit. Our second unit’s been clicking real well, and it’s been fun.”
As a whole, the Bulls’ net rating since the streak began is plus-12 points per 100 possessions, fourth in the NBA. It’s a small sample size, but this is a team that had lost 10 in a row prior to Friday’s win in Mirotic’s season debut. Not only did the Bulls bench outscore the Celtics’ reserves 55-30, they also shot 48% from the field against the NBA’s highest-rated defense.
Mirotic, who shot 9-of-14, seemed surprised when he was repeatedly pressed on his success with Portis.
“Why? Because we have to play well,” said Mirotic, who started as rookie Lauri Markkanen battled back spasms. “I don’t know. We are just trying to make it simple. Do our job. I’m doing my job, he’s doing his job, and right now I think when we are both on the court it seems that the team is playing well. We need to give that credit to Fred (Hoiberg).”
The topic is still tense in the locker room, but there were at least signs of on-court harmony. As the Bulls were running roughshod over a Kyrie Irving-less Celtics team in the first half, Portis fed Mirotic in the post for an easy bunny hook finish to give the Bulls a 52-34 lead, and a high-five followed. Later in the fourth quarter, the two traded outside jumpers, forced a Celtics timeout and fist-bumped as they headed to the bench.
The most demonstrative show of support came after Mirotic’s third three-pointer of the night with just over four minutes left. Mirotic scored from the wing and Portis sauntered back up the court with his tongue out in obvious appreciation. After Mirotic and Portis endured an awkward stalemate, with the former not formally accepting the latter’s apology until six weeks after the incident, that constituted significant progress.
“They’re both pros,” Hoiberg said. “They are both guys that are going to go out and play with great passion and emotion. You can see it with the way they’re playing off each other out there. I love the way those guys are playing together and hopefully they’ll keep it going. It’s been fun.”