The Bulls controlled most of the game and then made key plays at the end of regulation and in overtime to push their Eastern Conference-leading road record to 12-5. Only the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder (both 13-5) have better records away from home.
The Bulls controlled most of the game but had to make key plays at the end of regulation and in overtime to pull out a victory that — like many of their recent wins — should have been a little easier.
Luol Deng aggravated a sore hamstring that he injured against the Raptors on Wednesday night. The injury happened while Deng was driving to the hoop late in the third quarter. There was no contact — which conjured images of Derrick Rose’s knee injury during last year’s playoffs — and Deng hobbled to a stop while grabbing his hammy.
Said Deng: “As soon as I pushed off it, I just felt a pull. [There’s] swelling. It’s painful. In the hallway, I tried to run and just try to go back in the game for my teammates, but I had a hard time running.”
Obviously, Deng’s availability for tonight’s game against the Grizzlies is iffy at best.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “We’ll see. [Athletic trainer] Fred [Tedeschi]’s got to have him examined. [Deng] wanted to come back but he was not able to do it. We’ll see. We’ll see where he is.”
Added Deng: “I don’t know yet. We’ll see [Saturday]. We’ll see how I feel in the morning. The percentages [of playing] are very low.”
Fourth Quarter Blues:
The Bulls have had some bad fourth quarters this season…and it happened again last night.
During the last 12 minutes of regulation, they shot 6-for-14 from the field, committed 5 turnovers and missed three critical free throws in the final 2:43.
Chicago’s defense also suffered a letdown. After limiting Boston to 23-for-55 shooting (41 percent) through three quarters, the Celtics shot 9-for-16 (56.3 percent) in the fourth quarter.
And so — after controlling the game almost all night — the Bulls found themselves trailing 88-86 with 12 seconds left. Celtics ball.
Fortunately for the Chicago faithful, Rajon Rondo inbounded the ball to Paul Pierce, who allowed himself to be trapped by Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler. Instead of immediately fouling Pierce, Noah got his hands on the leather and the officials whistled for a jump ball.
Said Noah: “We executed it perfectly. We were able to get the trap and the jump ball. The basketball gods definitely were on our side in a competitive game. We got a few bounces go our way.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers had warned his players the Bulls would go for the ball before committing a foul, but it didn’t matter. For his part, Pierce thought he might have been fouled, but also admitted his team could have made better decisions to avoid a bitter loss.
Said Pierce: “Definitely a huge play of the game. All we had to do was get the ball in, maybe in a better position where we can get fouled. Then we wouldn’t be talking about the loss right now.”
That’s not quite true. Although forcing the jump ball was a huge break, the Bulls still had to win the tip and find a way to score two points in nine seconds. And it looked like it wasn’t going to happen after Marco Belinelli attacked the paint and got the ball smacked away from him by Rondo. But Kirk Hinrich recovered the ball and knocked down a 15-footer with only two seconds left.
The Wacky Overtime:
During the extra session, the Bulls once again took control and then lost it.
Jimmy Butler — who was fantastic in overtime — knocked down two free throws to give the Bulls a 96-93 lead with 1:15 left in the extra session. Kevin Garnett responded with a 20-footer and Belinelli re-responded by drawing a foul and going 2-for-2 at the line. Then Pierce got to the line and hit a couple to pull the Celtics to within a point with 43 seconds left.
The Bulls called timeout but still got stymied by Boston’s D on their next possession. Belinelli fired a shot off the top of the backboard. Boozer got the offensive rebound but couldn’t get a shot off in time to beat the shot clock (and Garnett had it stuffed anyway). The Celtics came back and got a go-ahead 16-footer from Jason Terry to take a 99-98 lead with 12 seconds left.
And then lightning struck for the second time.
The Celtics’ defense was swarming all over the place. Noah somehow ended up with the ball past the three-point stripe and rocketed a pass to Boozer, who was just inside the arc on the right baseline. Booz made an inside pass to a cutting Belinelli, who bobbled the ball before spinning around a knocking down an awkward fadeaway jumper with 3.1 seconds left. The Celtics rushed down the floor and Courtney Lee missed a desperation three.
Just the way Thibs drew it up, right?
Said Belinelli: “That’s natural. I know it’s a crazy shot, the fallaway. The ball went in.”
Player of the Game:
Players of the game is more like it. Several players should share this award. Rip Hamilton for leading the team in scoring with 20 points on 7-for-15 shooting. Carlos Boozer (20 rebounds, 19 points, 4 assists) and Joakim Noah (14 points, 13 boards, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 block) for their man-sized double-doubles, and Noah for tying up Pierce and winning the jump ball to give the Bulls a chance to force overtime. Kirk Hinrich for hitting a pressure shot to actually force the OT. Jimmy Butler for making several key plays in the extra session. And Marco Belinelli for finishing things off.
Opposing Player of the Game:
Rajon Rondo. He scorched the Bulls for a season-high 30 points on 12-for-21 shooting. He went 6-for-8 at the rim and scored 14 points in the paint.
Of course, that might have been all part of the plan. Rondo leads the league with an average of 11.0 assists per game but had only 7 against the Bulls. The Celtics had only 15 assists as a team and they never got into a flow with their ball movement. Making Rondo a scorer actually seemed to help Chicago’s defense. Case in point: Garnett and Pierce combined to shoot 10-for-33 from the field.
Chicago’s bench outscored Boston’s reserves 36-25 despite a poor outing by Taj Gibson (only 3 rebounds and 2 points in 18 minutes). Belinelli (10 points) and Nate Robinson (11 points) both reached double figures, but Butler (13 points and 4 rebounds) was the best of the second stringers. He went 4-for-5 from the field and 4-for-4 from the foul line. He stepped in and stepped up when Deng went down…and he was a major reason the Bulls pulled this one out in overtime.
Said Butler: “It was nice to know that my teammates have faith in me, to give me the ball whenever I’m open and know that I can go down there and guard and come and back and score another basket. That’s big for my confidence. To tell you the truth, in my head I was just like, ‘Do what Lu does. Do what Lu does.”
Key Stats Part 1:
The Bulls committed a season-worst 21 turnovers.
Key Stats Part 2:
The Bulls gave up only 7 points off those turnovers.
Key Stats Part 3:
The Bulls scored 16 points off Boston’s 12 turnovers.
Key Stats Part 4:
The Celtics outscored the Bulls 46-38 in the paint and 14-2 in fast break points.
Key Stats Part 5:
Chicago barely won the rebounding battle (43-42). However, even though the Celtics pulled down more offensive boards (11-8), the Bulls had more second-chance points (14-15).
Random Stat of the Game:
The Bulls have won 14 straight road games on Friday. TGIF, right? The AP recap says the Bulls haven’t lost a road game on Friday since April 2011. However, I did some checking of my own and it seems their last road loss on Friday was a 115-108 overtime loss in Indiana on March 18, 2011.