Celtics pull away from pesky Bulls, storm back to a 3-2 series lead

With the series tied 2-2, the Chicago Bulls arrived at the TD Garden to play the Boston Celtics without Rajon Rondo able to play, the engine that powered them to a surprising two-game lead early in the series.

Emotions were high from the tip, with something more like a Conference Finals feel emanating from both the players and the crowd as a raucous audience cheered on. A pair of early treys by Dwyane Wade and Nikola Mirotic sucked some of that energy away, and Robin Lopez battling Al Horford to the rim and Wade under the basket and from the stripe added to the Bulls early 12-4 lead at the seven minute mark. Avery Bradley broke the drought with a dunk on a fast break. Lopez picked up his second foul at the 4:30 mark and had to sit, and a Horford bucket on the next play got Boston within four. Isaiah Thomas took a hard hit and took a trip to the line before a pair of buckets by Wade and Jimmy Butler threatened to let the game get away again, until a trey by Marcus Smart broke the run of missed threes by the club, who were 0-8 before then.

A three from Bradley tied it up at 18 with two left in the first, But a Kelly Olynyk three sent the Celts into the lead and the crowd to their feet. Another Bradley bucket capped off the first, and put Boston up 23-20 to start the second after a 17-6 run from the five minute mark. Bobby Portis nailed a trey to open the quarter, but an Olynyk basket and Terry Rozier dunk kept the momentum with Boston. Both teams traded baskets over the next several minutes, with a surprise appearance by Anthony Morrow, who has played little since the All-Star break, until Isaiah Canaan tied it up at 31 at the 7:30 mark.

A questionable call against Horford on a Wade attempt drew some boos from the crowd about a minute later, and another on Thomas after a collision with Canaan kept Boston from stealing back the momentum. Paul Zipser and Rozier traded threes, and Smart added one of his own, followed by a telegraph pass up-court to Bradley to force a Chicago timeout with 3:30 left in the half. The Bulls took the lead back on a Butler basket over Crowder at the 2:30 mark, but makes from Bradley and Crowder stole back the lead, cemented after a crazy exchange between Smart, Horford, and Thomas that lead to a three, with the score 52-50 in Boston's favor at the half.

The second half started with a three in the corner by Horford, followed by another by Thomas. Buckets from Lopez kept the Bulls maddeningly close as the teams continued to trade baskets. A Canaan trey at 6:30 gave the Bulls their first lead of the half at 64-63, but the lead was quickly retaken after a Bradley layup. Smart passing up a look to Bradley showed heartening signs to those of us concerned with his shot selection, and a make from the restricted area had those folks cheering. Bradley and Horford turned back yet another push from the Bulls, forcing another timeout with just under two minutes left in the third, Boston up 75-73. Mirotic showed signs of life as the Bulls came back and took the lead with a three, followed by a bucket by Zipser. Crowder got himself to the line twice in the waning second of the third quarter, giving Boston a brief lead before Butler hit a trey as time expired, giving the Bulls a 81-79 lead.

The fourth quarter opened with a Jonas Jerebko dunk to tie it up, followed by some acrobatics under the rim by Thomas, but Smart biting on a Wade pump fake sent him to the line for the 16th lead change of the night. The 17th came right after, as a bad Wade pass turned into a fast-break bucket for Thomas. The Celts then played a KG video to hype up the Garden, and the volume level went through the roof. Olynyk cut aggressively to the basket and scored an and-one which he converted, putting Boston up four with eight to go. A Horford breakaway dunk threatened to send Boston on a run, but Canaan managed a last-second layup from an awkward angle that went in. Horford continued to be aggressive, and managed his own trip to the line after cutting to the paint.

Isaiah managed to wrest a board away from a sea of Bulls players, and get a foul called on Portis to boot. Lopez fouled Horford shortly after, sending him to the line where he put Boston up 98-89 with five to go, Boston's biggest lead of the night. Thomas got himself to the line on the next Boston possession after assessing a technical foul to Wade, pushing the lead to twelve. Horford then got back to the charity stripe, only to see Lopez get himself a tech mouthing off at the ref, seeming to put the game out of reach at 89-104. A six point run from Wade chipped away at the big lead Boston put up in the fourth, but a Horford stuff and Crowder layup sealed the deal with just under two left on the clock, Boston winning 108-97.

The Celtics next face the Bulls at Chicago 8 P.M. EST Friday, April 28th with the Bulls now facing elimination.

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Photo via SI.com
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