The Bulls Friday battled back all game after trailing most of the game by double digits to get within one point with about five minutes left. But they could not make a crucial basket and the Celtics pulled away for a 110-101 victory.
The Bulls fell to 24-18 and play in Cleveland Saturday in the first game for the Cavaliers since the surprise firing of coach David Blatt. The Celtics moved to 23-21.
The Bulls were led by Jimmy Butler with 28 points and 14 rebounds. Derrick Rose had 27 points and seven rebounds and Pau Gasol added 18 points and 11 rebounds. But the Bulls committed 20 turnovers with Boston getting 14 steals and 16 offensive rebounds in outworking the Bulls for loose balls and second chances. The Bulls had just 11 assists to 26 for Boston. Isaiah Thomas had Boston with 22 points.
The Bulls were still without Kirk Hinrich with a quad injury and, of course, Joakim Noah after surgery and Mike Dunleavy out all season after back surgery. Butler joined the list, in part, with the flu. He started but came out midway through the first quarter to rest and returned later in the quarter.
The Bulls got a pair of threes and eight points from Rose in staying within 16-15 midway through the first quarter. But turnovers were costly with Gasol committing three in the first quarter and when the Bulls began to substitute, the Celtics hit them with a 9-0 run and led 34-23 after the first quarter. The Bulls shot 32 percent with Rose three of six and the other starters a combined three of 13.
The Bulls made a run to open the second quarter with Butler starting with a pair of baskets and Bobby Portis providing some energy running the court and following up on the offensive boards. That enabled the Bulls to pull within 45-42 midway through the second quarter. But it unraveled after that as the Celtics increased pressure on the ball, causing three straight turnovers as the Bulls offense bogged down to a standstill. The Celtics hit the Bulls with a 15-2 run, also taking advantage of mismatches on their offensive end and outworking the Bulls. It enabled Boston to take a 64-49 halftime lead led by Avery Bradley’s 14.
Butler had 11 points and 11 rebounds at the half. The Bulls had 13 first half turnovers. The Celtics took a 77-61 lead midway through the third quarter with their aggressive defensive continually catching the Bulls from the blind side and forcing turnovers. But after being exposed on defense in the first half, Aaron Brooks gave the Bulls some thrust to get within 84-73 with just under four minutes left in the quarter. The Bulls then blew a chance to change the course of the game in a sequence late in the third quarter even with cutting the Boston lead to 90-82 after three.
After getting within 84-75, Brooks missed an open three, Nikola Mirotic missed a point blank layup on a follow and Portis missed an open dunk on a pass from Rose. Boston then again beat the Bulls to a loose ball on an offensive rebound and scored and held onto that eight-point lead after three quarters. The Bulls kept scoring enough, but the Celtics continued to win the race to loose balls and second chances, particularly Tyler Zeller as his efforts kept the Celtics ahead 97-88 four minutes into the fourth quarter. And then it was the Bulls who tightened the defense and behind Butler’s driving scores got within 97-94 with 5:05 remaining in the game. The Bulls then trailing 97-96 had a chance after trailing by 16 to take the lead. But a Rose pass to Mirotic went out of bounds and the Celtics eased ahead 101-96 with 3:21 left as the Bulls playing three guards got caught with mismatches inside.