Rose takes charge, leads Bulls over Celtics

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Rose takes charge, leads Bulls over Celtics

Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011
11:45 PM

By Chris Cason
CSNChicago.com

It was the effort they had been lacking during the two-game losing streak as the Chicago Bulls (24-12) defeated the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Celtics (28-8) 90-79 Saturday at the United Center.

The win improved the Bulls to a 16-3 record at home and prevented the first three-game losing streak of the season.

Derrick Rose scored 36 points with a career-high in both free throws made and attempted, going 15-for-19 from the charity stripe. Carlos Boozer finished with 22 points to go along with a game-high 10 rebounds.

In road losses against New Jersey and Philadelphia, the offense wasn't as much a concern as the defense had been.

"The big thing is it's not any one particular guy right now," head coach Tom Thibodeau said before the game about the issues on the defensive end in the prior two games. "You can point the finger at this guy and that guy but it's our entire group right now. Every aspect of our defense requires five people being tied together. Whether it's defense in transition, low post defense, pick and roll defense, catch and shoot defense -- if two or three guys aren't doing their job, it's going to show. We have to get back to being tied together with all five and we have to be able to sustain it for 48 minutes."

The Bulls held Boston to 5-of-17 shooting in the fourth quarter, holding Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to only one field goal attempt between the two of them. Chicago blocked five shots in the period, highlighted by Taj Gibson's four as he was a defensive presence around the rim.

"I thought Taj had a huge impact on the game," said Thibodeau. "His activity was great. He had four blocks in 20 minutes, but he altered a lot of shots."

While the defense was finally able to put together a consistent effort through a full game, as Chicago held Boston to 37 percent shooting for the game, it was Rose getting inside the teeth of the Celtics defense and not eluding contact, as his trademark forays to the hole display, but looking to initiate it.

"From the start of the game, to the end of the game, he was aggressive," said Thibodeau." When he plays like that, because he is generating speed, if there is contact, he will get more calls. He was taking the contact tonight and he was getting the calls."

Another issue of concern during the two losses was the energy in the third quarter. In both road games, the Bulls were outscored 32-18, leading to them playing from behind in the fourth.

While the Celtics did win the third quarter, scoring 22 to Chicago's 21, Rose went 7-for-10 from the free throw line, and kept the game at the Bulls pace. Chicago went into the fourth with 67-64 lead and its defense was able to close the game and keep the ball away from Boston's closers.

It was Thibodeau's first win against the team he spent three years with. His knowledge of what the Celtics ran was instrumental in holding them to just 37 points in the second half.

"As soon as they called it, we were calling it out," Boozer said on knowing Boston's sets. "Thibs does a great job of preparing us for every team but he knows this team through and through. He had us prepared again tonight. We knew what they were going to run because he was there however many years he was there. When you have the insight -- we also had former Celtic Brian Scalabrine. Scal helped us a lot tonight too, by talking to us about what they were trying to do, how they were trying to play defense, their offensive schemes and we just ran with what they told us and we did a great job of executing our game plan.

"They're a great defensive and very good offensive team. They execute very well and we held them to 79 points. That speaks volumes for all the guys in this locker room, having a tough road trip and coming in tonight and putting in the effort in that we had. Moving forward, we have to have this same effort every night."

After avoiding a three-game losing streak, the Bulls will try to use this as motivation going forward to Monday's game against the Pistons.

"It's definitely a momentum-builder," said Ronnie Brewer, who contributed 10 points and some crucial defensive plays in the fourth. "We had some let downs on the road. You have to give it to the teams that we played because they played really well. They fought every possession and got wins. For us, to play well at home against a team like the Celtics, it definitely is a statement-maker for us and we're just trying to build off this win and go into the next game with this momentum."

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Isaiah Thomas carries Celtics at critical times to save series against Bulls

Isaiah Thomas carries Celtics at critical times to save series against Bulls

Isaiah Thomas carries Celtics at critical times to save series against Bulls

The Celtics season was unraveling, and their face of the franchise was stumbling down the stretch. The opposing Bulls had used a 40-18 run spanning the second and third quarters to take their first lead. Jimmy Butler was hearing “M-V-P” chants from the crowd of nearly 22,000 and the Celtics looked lost, just as they had at times in Game 1 and 2 losses.

And Isaiah Thomas, the MVP candidate who had carried the Celtics all season, was at the front of the miscues. In just 4 third-quarter minutes he missed two shots, turned the ball over three times and committed his third and fourth personal fouls, the latter occurring on a charge during a 3-on-1 fast break. Knowing he’d need his All-Star point guard down the stretch of what was quickly becoming a tight contest, Brad Stevens subbed out Thomas with the hope that the Celtics could keep close their eight-point lead at the time.

Instead, the Bulls kept their foot on the gas, eyeing a 3-1 series lead behind the driving force of Jimmy Butler. The Bulls’ own All-Star helped manufacture a 12-0 run that put the Bulls, down by as many as 20 late in the second quarter, ahead for the first time, 65-63.

Thomas reentered with the score tied at 63, missing his first shot that set up the Bulls’ go-ahead basket from Robin Lopez. Following that basket, Thomas strung together the most important stretch of basketball this season in a 4-minute span that saved the game, and potentially the season.

The Bulls’ lead was brief, as Thomas twice drove to the basket and connected on layups to put the Celtics ahead. Next he found Al Hoford on a pick-and-roll set that the duo had run to perfection in Game 3. Thomas then took two trips to the free-throw line, burying all four attempts, and capped the quarter with a pair of assists to Kelly Olynyk that pushed the lead to 10. All told, Thomas had a hand in all 16 of the Celtics points scored after the Bulls took their lead.

The Celtics managed to hide Thomas defensively – he finished with just the four fouls – and the Bulls only managed to get within five in the fourth quarter (with Thomas on the bench) before the All Star point guard closed the door to even the series heading back to Boston for Game 5 on Wednesday.

“The game was not going our direction and the worst that could happen is somebody fouls out of a game,” Stevens said. “Isaiah’s a big part of our offense and we needed to feel better about ourselves and we tweaked the defense a little bit there to try to protect him, but we didn’t feel like he could sit right there. Things were not going our way.”

Much of the night belonged to the Celtics, even if the Bulls did manage to erase the 20-point deficit. The Bulls’ defensive strategy in Game 3 to limit Thomas, who was second in the league in scoring, to just 18 points, his second lowest point total of the year. Thomas’ nine assists were crucial in Friday’s win, but the Celtics wanted him attacking the basket.

They set higher pick-and-rolls to allow Thomas room to take Robin Lopez off the dribble, and the Boston again playing a small-ball lineup the floor was spaced enough to allow Thomas to attack the rim; just two of Thomas’ 10 makes came outside the restricted area, and his 13 free-throw attempts were a stark contrast after he tallied zero in Game 3. Thomas was a team-high +17 in the nine-point win. His 33  points were the most he had scored in the series.

“It helps us feel a lot more confident when he’s on the floor because he’s able to make plays, not only for himself but other guys on the team,” Avery Bradley said. “Sometimes we need him getting in the paint, kicking it out, and hitting the next guy because it’s contagious.”

Thomas’ third-quarter stretch was his best, but not the only time he contributed. The 5-foot-9 Thomas scored 10 points in the first quarter as the Celtics pushed their lead to as many as 14 points. He hadded six more in the second quarter as the Bulls deployed three different point guards – Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams and Isaiah Canaan – at him, as well as Jimmy Butler.

Thomas remained focused as the Bulls’ carousel of point guards with Rajon Rondo out continued to to turn.

“I just try to play the same way no matter who’s out there on the floor. I got a job to do and that’s score the basketball, make plays for others on this team and be a leader,” Thomas said, speaking to the media for the first time this postseason. “So it doesn’t really matter what the other team’s doing because I’ve got to do my job and I’ve got to do it at a high level for us to win.”

Thomas went for the kill shot in the fourth quarter and delivered. Two baskets from Game 1 hero Bobby Portis cut the Bulls’ deficit to five, prompting Stevens to sub in Thomas, Bradley and Jae Crowder earlier than he would have liked. No matter. Thomas drove twice to the basket on successive possessions and scored both times, including a three-point play. That pushed the Celtics’ lead back to 10 in just 90 seconds, and the Bulls didn’t get close than eight the rest of the way.

Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg vented frustration with the officials following the game, noting that Thomas becomes an “impossible guard” when he’s allowed to carry the basketball during his dribble. Thomas said he couldn’t remember a time this season when he was called for carrying – in reality he’s been called for it three times, though not since January.

It was a strategic tactic for Hoiberg to deploy, hoping for any chance to slow down Thomas. The Celtics point guard is heating up at the perfect time, and he’s doing so while still trying to find his three-point shot. Once that starts working the Bulls will need to once again adjust on the fly. As for Hoiberg’s comment, Thomas echoed during his postgame availability what he showed earlier on Sunday night.

“That,” he said with a smile, “is not the reason why I’m an impossible cover.”