Red-hot Jayson Tatum, Celtics continue road trip at Bulls

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Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum appreciated the much-too-early chants of “MVP!” he heard after scoring 40 points Saturday during a win at Orlando.

At the same time, he pumped the brakes on thinking about individual accolades so early in the season.

There’s no denying, though, that Tatum has excelled in the first week of play. After scoring 104 points through three games, he’ll look to continue the run Monday as the unbeaten Celtics visit the Chicago Bulls.

Tatum now stands alone in franchise history as the player with the most points through three games. Hall of Famer Larry Bird held the previous standard with 96 to begin 1984-85.

Boston fell in the NBA Finals that season, a fate the current Celtics hope to overcome after losing to Golden State in a six-game Finals in June.

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Tatum can attest to that as his personal motivation as well.

“Since I was a kid, getting to the NBA wasn’t just what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a champion, reach all those accolades and accomplishments, and MVP is obviously at the top of that list,” Tatum said. “But I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it a million more times: All I’m concerned about is getting back to the championship and getting over that hump.

“They kind of go hand in hand, right? If we get back to the championship or (we’re) one of the best teams, it means I’m probably playing at a high level and everybody else as well, and all the individual accolades will come like they did last season for all the guys.”

Chicago has lost two in a row after a solid stretch run boosted the team to victory at Miami in the season opener.

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Cleveland routed the host Bulls 128-96 on Saturday in Chicago’s home opener, which also marked the season debut for Zach LaVine. Seemingly healthy after recovering from offseason surgery to an injured left knee, LaVine missed the first two games out of precaution.

On Saturday, he paced the Bulls with 23 points in 28 minutes, while adding four assists and three rebounds.

“When I play, I’m not going to try to hold anything back,” LaVine said. “It felt good to get out there. My first real time going 100 percent since last year.”

The Bulls trailed by as many as 19 points in the first half before cutting the deficit to nine. Ultimately, however, they couldn’t keep pace, allowing Cleveland to shoot 56.5 percent from the field compared to 40.5 percent for Chicago.

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“We struggled to shoot the ball,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “That’s a part of the game and that cannot dictate our spirit defensively.”

Boston leads the all-time series with Chicago 128-107 but is 15 games below .500 in games played in Chicago. The Celtics took two of three meetings from the Bulls last season.

The Celtics’ Al Horford didn’t play at Orlando on Saturday as he works through back stiffness. Noah Vonleh got the call at center, making his first start since Nov. 23, 2019, when he played for Minnesota.

Derrick White complemented Tatum with 27 points against the Magic, two off his career high.

–Field Level Media

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