BOSTON – The ‘Next Man Up’ tour continues rolling along for the Boston Celtics, with Amir Johnson the latest Celtic to fill the void of a missing team.
Johnson, who scored a total of 15 points in Boston’s first three games, erupted for a season-high 23 points in helping the injury-depleted Celtics hold off Chicago Bulls for a 107-100 win.
In addition to a season-high scoring the ball, Johnson set a career high mark with four made 3-pointers.
CELTICS 107, Bulls 100
- Amica Game Recap: Celtics beat the Bulls, 107-100
- Stevens on Crowder injury: 'Doesn’t sound like he’ll be back any time soon'
- Highlights: Boston Celtics 107, Chicago Bulls 100
- Stars, studs and duds: Smart delivers with clutch layup
As well as he played, this game came down to the wire.
After the Bulls tied the game at 100 with 1:57 to play, Johnson made the second of two free throws to put the Celtics ahead 101-100 with 1:44 to play.
Out came the ‘D-Fense … d-fense’ chants only for Boston’s Jonas Jerebko to be called for an away-from-the-ball foul that sent Nikola Mirotic to the line.
But unlike Johnson, he missed both of his free throws which allowed Boston to cling to its one-point lead that was pushed to three points moments later by an Isaiah Thomas basket.
After a Rajon Rondo air ball that hit nothing but net – as in no rim but only the net – Boston had a chance to make it a two-possession game.
Thomas’ contested 3-pointer in front of the Bulls bench barely grazed the rim, but there was Johnson making his presence felt.
He would tip the loose ball to Avery Bradley, milking a few more seconds off the clock before Boston called a time-out with 34 seconds to play.
Out of the time-out, Marcus Smart scored on a driving, hook shot to make it a 105-100 game with 25.2 seconds to play.
Johnson’s big night came on a night when they desperately needed one of their bigs to step up.
The Celtics were without Al Horford who suffered a concussion earlier this week that kept him out of Wednesday night’s game against Chicago and will keep him sidelined for Thursday night’s game against Cleveland as well.
Boston’s injury woes continued with Jae Crowder suffering a left ankle sprain in the second quarter that prevented him from returning to action. His status is uncertain for Thursday’s game against the Cavs.
And the Bulls not surprisingly, made the most of his absence by getting their best wing player Jimmy Butler going.
Boston led by as many as 16 points in the fourth quarter, but saw their lead down to just five points (93-88) following a 3-point play by Butler.
He finished with a team-high 23 points.
Making the victory even sweeter was how it came about on a night when Boston wasn’t at full strength roster-wise.
But when it comes to injuries, the Celtics have shown an ability to lean heavily on its reserves who often come through with solid performances.
Filling in for Horford was Tyler Zeller who had 11 points and four rebounds.
But the story of his game was Johnson, whose play has been questioned after the first three games due to the solid performances Boston has been getting off the bench from Zeller.
But to Johnson’s credit, he has maintained a steady demeanor and focus on doing whatever he’s called upon to do to help Boston be successful.
Usually it’s rebounding, defense and setting screens.
On Wednesday, they needed him to score. And to Johnson’s credit, he delivered in a way few could have anticipated.
Prior to Wednesday, Johnson had only made seven baskets in three games. He was 9-for-11 from the field after just three quarters of play.
But Johnson’s big night wasn’t the only strong performance Boston (3-1) got as they avenged their lone loss of the season.
Isaiah Thomas continues to be a high-impact scoring guard for Boston, but he’s showing signs of being a better-than-average playmaker, too.
In addition to scoring 23 points, Thomas also dished out a game-high 10 assists.
And then there was Avery Bradley who was questionable due to soreness in his right shoulder.
He told CSNNE.com prior to the game that the shoulder was feeling better but he wasn’t sure if he would be able to play.
Bradley didn’t have another career night offensively, but he did provide some solid scoring and as always, exceptional defense.
He would finish with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Meanwhile, the Bulls (3-1) suffered their first loss of the season in part because of the Celtics’ ability to keep the second-chance points battle close while making sure they outscored the Bulls in fast-break points.
It was by all accounts a good win, but the Celtics have no time to enjoy it, not with another game against the well-rested defending NBA champions on the road Thursday night.
Already a difficult challenge, it’s even tougher knowing they’ll have to play without Horford and potentially Crowder as well.