Bulls take care of business against Magic, await playoff fate in final game

Bulls take care of business against Magic, await playoff fate in final game

No matter the score or how impressive the Bulls' end-to-end 122-75 win was over the Orlando Magic, the only thing it clinched was a better point differential, as they are now through 81 games and needing one more to qualify for the NBA Playoffs.

It certainly looked pretty, as the sight of another game with double-digit 3-point makes as well as shooting over 50 percent was necessary, along with Dwyane Wade playing another 22 minutes to get himself in a rhythm before the playoffs.

If the playoffs happen, because the Miami Heat beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in overtime while the Bulls' game had yet to go final, meaning it could take a win over the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday to clinch a playoff spot.

If there's a position you'd want to be in — as unnecessary as it seems — you'd want to come off a game where six players were in double figures. Assists were tossed around like rice at a wedding as the Bulls looked cohesive for the night, compared to a lethargic showing — something the Bulls are wont to do.

Having 33 assists on 48 field goals is set to be a recipe for success against most teams and the Bulls needed a wire-to-wire win to restore some confidence headed into the regular-season finale Wednesday.

"If we don't win the game, we don't deserve to be in. Simple as that," Wade said. "We took care of business, we beat a team we were supposed to beat here on our home floor, and it's the same thing we're supposed to do on Wednesday."

Robin Lopez led the Bulls with 18 points and Jimmy Butler scored 17 in 31 minutes, in a game that seemed over shortly after 7:15 local time.

"I think the big thing was our energy right out the gate," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "That's something we talk about. Today we got out with the ball and played with pace and our guys were really unselfish with the ball."

Against one of the more youthful and athletic clubs in the league, albeit an underachieving one, the Bulls looked like the young and athletic bunch for the first time in a long time.

It's not to say Wade looked 10 years younger but he's feeling closer and closer to his usual form, while not trying to disrupt the ball movement and spacing style that was established in his absence.

"Tonight was a good game for everyone to be involved and feel good about themselves," Wade said. "We look forward to playing the team again that stole a game from us a couple days ago."

Hoiberg said: "I thought he looked comfortable tonight. His rhythm was better and you could tell his legs were better. He just had to get that first one out of the way."

Getting out of the break early and often, the Bulls made the contest look like target practice, throwing multiple alley-oops, complete with uncontested breakaways and backdoor cuts against a defense that displayed an indifference similar to a team that longs for Wednesday to come and go as quick as possible.

Taking a lead that reached 30 before the half and extended to as much as 47 in the second half, little time, energy and emotion was wasted before the eyes of the important people turned to what was going on in South Beach.

Off and running for the better part of 48 minutes, the Bulls wasted no time, looking nothing like the inconsistent bunch that took turns showing up or falling asleep last week on their east coast swing.

Jerian Grant had a career-high 11 assists in the absence of Rajon Rondo, who is still out with a right wrist sprain — a sprain Hoiberg deemed "significant" in the pregame — and with no real sign of a definitive return.

Grant has averaged 15.6 points, seven assists and four rebounds in three games since being reinserted as starter.

"Jerian has been great," Hoiberg said. "It's obviously huge shoes to fill with Rajon out. Jerian has done a terrific job of going out and playing with confidence. He made the right play and right read."

Making more of an impression for the playoffs than one might've expected — should the Bulls qualify — Grant made the case he should be on the floor no matter who on the roster is available.

"It feels good to go in and play well after being taken out of the rotation, especially these last couple games that we need to win. It means a lot for me," Grant said. "It's one game and we're in."

Just as things have been all season, the answers on the Bulls won't come until the final day of the regular season, it appears, where opportunity or disaster is at their door.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg criticizes refs for not calling carries on Celtics' Isaiah Thomas

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg criticizes refs for not calling carries on Celtics' Isaiah Thomas

Fred Hoiberg wasn't pleased with the officials on Sunday.

Following the Bulls' 104-95 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 4, the Bulls head coach criticized the refs for not calling carries on Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas.

"He had a hell of a game tonight, but when you're allowed discontiue your dribble on every possession, he is impossible to guard," Hoiberg said of Thomas. "He is impossible to guard when you're able to put your hand underneath the ball and take two or three steps and put it back down. It's impossoble to guard him in those situations."

After hearing those comments, Thomas said that he can't recall at any point this entire season where he was called for a carry.

"I've been dribbling that way my whole life," Thomas said. "I don't know what to say to that."

Thomas finished the game with 33 points and seven assists in 35 minutes played, leading his team to even up the series at 2-2.

Bulls comeback falls flat as Celtics tie series at 2-2

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USA TODAY

Bulls comeback falls flat as Celtics tie series at 2-2

By the numbers it looks like the series has gone to form but it certainly feels like the Bulls lost more than control of it with their 104-95 loss to the Celtics at the United Center Sunday evening.

The series is tied at two games apiece but it certainly has the feel of a Celtics advantage, and not just because they have two of the last three games in their building in a series that hasn't seen a home team win a game.

It looks as if the Celtics have figured the Bulls out, taken their best shot and delivered some serious blows of their own, in the form of a 5-foot-9 dynamo who produced a signature moment of his own when his team needed him desperately.

If Isaiah Thomas isn't the best player in this series, he was certainly the freshest star when it counted, spearheading a 15-2 run to finish the third quarter when the Bulls made a resounding comeback to look as if they would ride a wave of emotion to an improbable 3-1 lead.

Thomas scored or assisted on the next 20 Celtic points, getting into the lane at will along with finding shooters and buckets inside, the biggest stretch of his 33-point night, as he added nine assists on 10 of 21 shooting and hitting 12 of his 13 free throws.

It didn't matter that the Bulls missed a grand opportunity to exploit one of the most vulnerable defensive players in the league in Thomas, as they refused to attack him after he picked up his fourth foul early in the third.

He kept attacking the Bulls, jumping on the expressway known as the Bulls' paint and finishing multiple times against taller defenders to restore order and press the lead back to 10 at the end of the third.

The Bulls were gassed after coming back from a 20-point deficit, with Jimmy Butler literally doing everything on his way to a 33-point night with nine assists and five rebounds. After a game where he didn't go to the foul line at all, he took every bump and every bruise on his way to 23 free throws.

Nikola Mirotic and Isaiah Canaan scored 13 with Dwyane Wade adding 11, but it was Wade's missed fast break layup that resulted in an Al Horford 3-point play after a dunk that made it 92-80, ending a relatively serious Bulls' threat.

Horford scored 15 with 12 rebounds while Brad Stevens' adjustment from Game 3, Gerald Green, scored all 18 of his points in the first half, helping the Celtics take control as they again gouged the Bulls from the 3-point line in the opening moments—starting with Thomas' patience against an aggressive Bulls defense.

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The game was an instant replay early, with the Celtics jumping out to an 11-4 lead and methodically increasing it throughout. Hoiberg gave his struggling point guards another chance, but Grant and Carter-Williams were again not up to task, with Hoiberg pulling them in favor for Isaiah Canaan.

Canaan hasn't played meaningful minutes in months and certainly has been little more than an afterthought since early April but provided a spark in 33 minutes, being a plus-20 and at least bothering Thomas on defense.

Canaan took a charge on Thomas and then hit a triple, bringing the deficit to five midway through the period. The Bulls took their first lead with a Robin Lopez duck-in hook shot at 65-63 before Thomas sliced inside for two layups on consecutive possessions.

Lopez began picking away at the Celtics on the glass, but only played 22 minutes as Hoiberg opted to go away from him and switch to a smaller lineup. It was a tactic that backfired, as the Bulls lost their advantage in paint scoring with each scoring 48 after the Bulls had dominated that department in their first two wins.

Among many things the Bulls tried, competing was their best counter and it'll have to be that in spades from here—because it looks like the Celtics have all the big faces, even if it's in a small package.