Bulls fall short of Celtics in ugly first-half finale

Highlights: Bulls commit 22 turnovers in loss to Celtics

Bulls fall short of Celtics in ugly first-half finale
February 13, 2013, 9:30 pm
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BOSTON—In a sloppy, poor-shooting affair that set the NBA back a minimum of a few decades, the Bulls and Celtics waged a battle fitting of their recent rivalry, complete with a frantic finish with Boston prevailing, 71-69.

The two teams engaged in a physical, defensive-oriented contest that came down to the final moments, when Taj Gibson’s buzzer-beating fling was awry, sending the weary Bulls into the All-Star break with a two-game losing streak.

Errant shooting on both sides marked the outset of the contest, though that didn’t take away from the game’s intensity or the atmosphere, despite significant injuries for each team—the Celtics (28-24) learned that guard Leandro Barbosa was lost for the season with a torn ACL earlier in the day—and the All-Star break approaching.

The balanced scoring that has marked Boston’s successful run without the services of sidelined star point guard Rajon Rondo continued in the game’s early going, as power forward Brandon Bass (14 points, nine rebounds) was a force on the interior, Avery Bradley (10 points) was a defensive pest, an aggressive Jeff Green came off the bench to provide a spark and Paul Pierce (eight points, six rebounds, six assists) continued to handle playmaking duties.

The visitors dug themselves an early hole, partially due to ball-security issues—foul trouble was also a problem, as the starting backcourt of Nate Robinson and Rip Hamilton, each picked up two early fouls—but a lift off the bench from swingman Jimmy Butler (11 points, six rebounds) ensured that things didn’t get out of hand.

Through a period of play, the Bulls (30-22) trailed, 24-15, as Bradley and Green led the way for the hosts.

Rookie point guard Marquis Teague, in the game for Robinson, and fellow reserves Marco Belinelli (12 points) and Gibson gave the Bulls a boost at the beginning of the second quarter, helped the Bulls quickly narrow the gap to make it a close-knit affair.

Gibson’s energy—before picking up three fouls in rapid succession—and Belinelli’s knack for scoring are givens at this point in the season, but Teague’s ability to push the pace and set up his teammates was a refresher course for those who don’t remember his solid early-season run, the only time the 19-year-old has consistently received extended minutes in his debut NBA campaign.

Behind Teague’s floor generalship, playmaking and strong drives to the rim—not to mention Butler’s continued aggressiveness and All-Star center Joakim Noah’s (10 points, 16 rebounds) rebounding and passing—the Bulls briefly overtook their hosts, though Carlos Boozer (11 points, 11 rebounds), who had an effective first half, picked up three fouls, including two on the same possession, had to exit the contest.

It was a back-and-forth contest for the remainder of the second quarter, but the Bulls, thanks to a stifling period on the defensive end of the floor, held a 36-35 advantage at the intermission of the low-scoring affair.

After the break, the already-physical contest became an even chippier affair—Robinson and Bradley, both natives of the Seattle area, had a brief tete a tete—but not much changed on the scoreboard, as stingy defense continued to be the name of the game for both squads, with turnovers also playing a part in the needle not moving.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau rode his starters for most of the period, while his former boss, Celtics counterpart Doc Rivers went with an oversized lineup—partly to cope with the aforementioned losses of Barbosa and Rondo—and the visitors were the first to create any separation.

Behind the frontcourt trio of Noah, Boozer and All-Star Luol Deng, who saw reduced playing time in the first half, the Bulls built a slim cushion as the third quarter waned on.

Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls led, 49-43, in a game, with its remarkably low shooting percentages, resembled more of a collegiate contest than a game on the professional level.

The Bulls’ tenuous hold on the game started to evaporate early in the third quarter, thanks to both turnovers and a marvelous sequence by Bass, who provided the cold-shooting Celtics with some consistent scoring for a stretch, albeit a brief one.

A 12-1 run, capped by an athletic Green reverse baseline dunk, took the lead back for Boston, as the visitors’ offensive miscues continued to pile up and the hosts started to find their rhythm, until a Butler three-point play ended the extended spurt, during which the Bulls went scoreless for approximately six minutes of action.

Still, the game remained close, but entering the game’s stretch run, it was clear that the Celtics had all of the momentum, as evidenced by clutch jumpers from Pierce, veteran sixth man Jason Terry (12 points) and All-Star Kevin Garnett (12 points, 11 rebounds), who had battled with Noah on the glass throughout the evening.

A two-possession game with just over a minute to play, a Deng jump hook narrowed it to 67-64, in Boston’s favor, with 49.5 seconds remaining and after a timeout, the Celtics were whistled for a five-second violation when the Bulls’ extended defensive pressure wouldn’t allow them to inbound the ball in the backcourt.

On the subsequent possession, Belinelli hit a difficult layup with 44.6 seconds left, making it a one-point contest and at the end of an excellent defensive trip by the guests, Garnett knocked down a mid-range jumper to beat the shot clock with 19.8 seconds on the clock, giving the Celtics a 69-66 lead.

Out of a Bulls timeout, Robinson missed a deep attempt to tie the game, but a Boozer tip-in once again made it a one-point affair with 10.8 seconds to go.

Pierce was fouled with exactly 10 seconds left and the veteran calmly sank a pair from the charity stripe, leading to Robinson pushing the ball up the court and getting fouled by Bradley—despite trying to draw a shooting foul, the officials ruled it on the floor—and making the initial attempt before missing the second.

A wild scramble for the rebound ensued and after Belinelli’s heavily-guarded attempt was partially blocked, Gibson ended up with the ball, but his long-range heave was off the mark, concluding the Bulls’ final game before the All-Star break.