BOSTON, MA—Joakim Noah contested a Kelly Olynyk triple that seemed a bit too early on the shot clock but as he slipped to the parquet floor had backup as the Celtics retreated back on defense when the shot went awry.
A couple seconds later he was shaking his head in disgust as Doug McDermott failed to corral what should’ve been an easy rebound and transition opportunity, sending the TD Garden crowd into a comical frenzy.
Even when things should be easy for the Bulls, they insist on doing things the hard way and Wednesday was no exception, as the Boston Celtics used an early fourth-quarter run to distance themselves from the Bulls for an 105-100 win, the Bulls’ third straight defeat.
David Lee’s dunk a couple minutes later put the capper on a 12-2 run after the two teams played to a virtual standstill for 36 minutes, and resulted with the Bulls playing from behind from that point forward.
“I thought our effort was good, most of the night. But they came out and threw the first punch in the fourth quarter,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “That got us on our heels a little bit. Then we got back into it but that was it.”
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Jimmy Butler, who had a career-high night, tried to help bring the Bulls back with consecutive drives and scores, followed by a fast break layup from Nikola Mirotic to pull the Bulls to within three but the Celtics pulled away.
Mirotic was replaced in the starting lineup by Taj Gibson, who only played 19 minutes but contributed eight points and seven rebounds. Gibson didn’t play in the fourth until late when it was early where a stabilizing force was in desperate need.
“We wanted to stagger them a little bit,” Hoiberg said. “Get Niko coming off the bench, change his rhythm up a little bit. I thought Jo has really developed a nice chemistry with Doug. Get another perimeter guy out there with Jo with Niko. Try and spread it out, get Jo going with his dribble hand-offs and swinging the ball screens, so that was the reason we put [Gibson] in the starting lineup.”
Butler promised he’d be more aggressive, especially late with the game on the line and he delivered for 36 points and seven rebounds, with 17 of his points coming in the fourth quarter but the help wasn’t enough, as the Bulls again struggled scoring.
“At times, we’re really good at our pace,” Hoiberg said. “For the most part it was pretty good tonight. The start of the fourth, we got stagnant and we weren’t moving very well.”
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The Bulls shot just 43 percent from the field and their cold start to the fourth proved to be their ultimate undoing and now, the Bulls seem to be in some uncharted territory, beyond the struggling with this losing streak.
“This is the first time ever really going through it,” Derrick Rose said. “We’ve been together for a long time and we’re just trying to figure things out.”
Rose finished with 12 points and six assists, shooting 5-for-11. He was more aggressive going to the basket but didn’t get the benefit of the doubt from the officials, taking away a necessary presence on a night when the Bulls needed every little bit of offensive firepower.
The Celtics, while shooting 41 percent, came up with the big plays in spades when it was needed most, almost a rubik’s cube of options.
Isaiah Thomas’ 3-point play with 2:52 left while being fouled by Mirotic put the Celtics up eight and capitalized his 20-point second half after going scoreless in the first.
All five Celtics starters scored in double figures and their balance shifted to the bench as Olynyk, Lee and Evan Turner all repeated the feat.
Their pressure, more so than their scoring, played a part in sending the Bulls into their tailspin.
The turnovers, a Celtics specialty, was a nemesis for the Bulls. The team that forces the most turnovers in the league used it to get themselves going after the Bulls’ defense kept them in check for the first couple minutes.
“We had too many turnovers in the first half,” said Hoiberg of their 11 giveaways.
Once they turned up the pressure, it erased the small advantage the Bulls had and sent the visitors into a borderline panic.
Pau Gasol scored 16 but shot 7-for-17 and turned it over four times. Derrick Rose committed three giveaways and the Bulls’ 18 turnovers turned into 25 points, something Hoiberg warned his team about beforehand.
But no warning could apparently prepare the Bulls for struggling yet again, for which the answers aren’t quite so easy.