Now we’ve got a series. Not that the Bulls wanted one, but it’s their playoff fate now as the Boston Celtics Friday dominated in a 104-87 victory.
The Celtics led the entire game after the first two minutes. The Bulls with a powerful second quarter run got back within a point extending to early the third quarter. But the Celtics effectively ended it there with a 20-7 surge. The Bulls never got closer than 10 behind after that.
The Bulls were led by Dwyane Wade with 18 points and Jimmy Butler with 14, though Butler was seven of 21 against fierce Boston defense. Robin Lopez added 12 points. Nikola Mirotic had 11. Paul Zipser had 10 points. Though the Bulls maintained their rebounding dominance, the Celtics had an obscene 34-14 advantage in assists. Boston made 17 three pointers.
The Celtics drew within 2-1 in the first round playoff series. Game 4 is 5:30 Sunday in the United Center. The absence of Rajon Rondo was critical for the Bulls with fewer assists and ball movement that inhibited the Bulls offense that had the Bulls average 102.9 for the first two games of the series in Boston. The Bulls emptied the bench and fans began to file out with 4:11 left and the Bulls trailing by 20.
Rondo was out and likely for the series with a fractured thumb. With the Celtics losing the first two games, they made a starting lineup change going to Gerald Green. The idea apparently was to get more speed and pressure into the lineup in lieu of size. And it worked to start as the Bulls became more stagnant against the pressure defense. The Bulls also were lured into more isolation shots given a size advantage in also going away from their inside strength with Lopez. It enabled the Celtics to dominate the start, going on an 11-0 run after the Bulls nudged ahead 4-3 and then a 13-0 run later in the quarter for a 33-15 lead after one quarter. Boston made seven of 11 three pointers in the quarter in shooting 57 percent overall while the Bulls helped them with five turnovers. The Bulls shot 31.6 percent in the quarter led by Wade’s six points. The Bulls got back into the game with three consecutive Celtics turnovers early in the second quarter that led to an 11-0 Bulls run propelled by Wade, who took over as point guard. Wade also did the scoring and had a pair of nice assists on a Cristiano Felicio roll and to Bobby Portis inside as the Bulls showed more life in getting within 42-32 with 4:21 left in the first half. The Bulls continued to apply the pressure, especially on defense as the Celtics shot just five of 22 in the second quarter. The Bulls cut off Isaiah Thomas’ drives to the basket and their threes and elbowed their way back behind Wade’s 14 first half points. After just one assist in the first quarter, the Bulls added seven in the second quarter and with a Mirotic three closed within 44-41 at halftime.
The Bulls got a Grant drive and a pair of free throws to open the third quarter to get within 44-43. But then they allowed Boston to get away again with a 15-4 run. The Bulls reverted to quick jump shots once again, Grant with turnovers that led to a quick Michael Carter-Williams substitution and Thomas finding the range with back to back threes. The Celtics then took advantage of Al Horford rolling for a pair of scores with better ball movement and led 69-54 with 2:22 left in the third quarter. After missing 11 of his first 12 shots, Butler finally got going with three consecutive scores, two on driving baskets. But heading into the fourth quarter the Bulls still trailed 76-63. The Bulls couldn’t get much going again to start the fourth quarter with Butler mostly held in check. Wade tried to respond, but Boston continued to outhustle the Bulls as well and with Jonas Jerebko scoring twice on back door cuts and an Avery Bradley three, the Celtics took an 88-69 lead with about eight minutes left in the game.