After a long miss, a battle of strength ensued underneath the Bulls basket as Jimmy Butler, Robin Lopez and Al Horford, Isaiah Thomas dug deeper to snarl the loose ball and was fouled by Bobby Portis.
The smallest player on the floor flexed with swagger, unleashing a devilish smile before giving the Chicago Bulls hell on the other end.
Thomas broke loose during a critical stretch to help the Celtics shake the Bulls in Game 5 of their first-round series with a 108-97 win at TD Garden, with the Celtics now leading three games to two and with a chance to clinch the wild series Friday night at the United Center.
Thomas' 24 points was certainly a tangible, but the Bulls will lament losing their cool midway through the fourth quarter after every button they pushed up until that point seemed to work, keeping them in contention.
Needing a leader to settle things, the Bulls were missing Rajon Rondo, who could only aid from the sidelines as a de-facto coach. The Bulls needed calm, they needed leadership.
Instead they came up empty at the worst time, being outscored 29-16 in the fourth quarter and turned it over six times, 16 overall. The turnovers prevented them from taking a decent-sized lead in the first half and doomed them in the end.
"We got off to a really good start then obviously they took over the last ten minutes," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "I love the way our guys competed."
It was part of a Bulls unraveling when they needed to keep their composure, after they kept their composure for the better part of 40 minutes in a hostile environment.
Dwyane Wade picked up a technical, followed by Robin Lopez' complaining about being caught in a leg hold from Jae Crowder earned him one as well. Lopez' sarcastic clapping at official Ed Malloy did him in.
"I was trying to be supportive of my teammates; I was trying to be supportive of Mr. Malloy," Lopez said. "I think he misconstrued it; I think he took it the wrong way."
Wade warned his teammates there would be a game where very little would go their way by way of the officials, and his team would have to play through it. Wade said he commented to official Danny Crawford that Thomas was getting a lot of calls and that's why he was tagged with a tech.
"Well I've definitely been a 1 seed before, playing against an 8 seed and I understand what it means, especially on the road," Wade said. "It's a lot of these guys' first time in it, that we're not going to get a call on the road, to our liking. Not saying we don't get any calls, but to our liking, the home team is gonna get a little more cooking than you, and the emotions run high in the game."
Considering the Bulls rarely lost their cool, even in instances this season where more fire would've been good to see, Wade was encouraged by the passion and investment.
Even if it cost them.
"I'll take that. I'd rather see that than see nothing," Wade said. "It shows that people care. I'm fine with everything that happened."
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At the end of it, the Bulls were behind 104-89 with four minutes left and Al Horford again continued his low-key but effective play with a dunk by twisting Nikola Mirotic with a fake that opened up the baseline and sent the Garden crowd into a frenzy, part of a 21-point nine-rebound, seven assist performance.
Reserve Kelly Olynyk scored a playoff-high 14 points and five rebounds in 20 minutes as the Celtics routinely used one big with four wing players all night, giving the Bulls fits again.
But that four-minute stretch was costly and now the Bulls find themselves one game away from playoff extinction.
Thomas' circus layup and foul put the Celtics back on top and he looked ultra aggressive from the start of the fourth, as Jimmy Butler got a rare rest in the opening minutes but it didn't translate, as he went scoreless on just two shots.
He took what the double teams gave him and will probably lament putting up just 15 shots, especially after he finished the third with a flurry, including a buzzer-beating 30 footer in front of the Celtics' bench.
Wade scored 26 with 11 rebounds and eight assists in 34 minutes, and the Bulls even shot 50 percent from the field, but put up just 74 shots. Lopez scored 14 and Butler 14, but Butler missed both of his attempts in the fourth and didn't get aggressive.
Lopez again made the parquet floor his own, going through a stretch in the third where he was hitting 20-footers and even manipulated the defense when it was scrambling to find Butler for a triple near the top of the key that was the most open look since Rondo injured his thumb.
Hoiberg went to his bag of tricks by pulling out Anthony Morrow for significant minutes in the first half, and unlike the last two games neither team could get away from the other.
Morrow scored eight in 16 minutes and Canaan scored 13 in 36 minutes, holding Thomas to just one of 10 shooting before Thomas managed to break loose later.
The Bulls repeatedly answered the Celtics' surges with calm execution and shot-making, hitting 53 percent in the first half. Keeping Thomas in check was the objective and although he made some pretty passes in traffic his teammates couldn't convert on wide-open shots, shooting 24 percent on 25 3-point attempts.
Thomas didn't get his first basket until the last minute of the first half, a triple off an offensive rebound. It was Avery Bradley who helped carry the Celtics when Thomas needed assistance, scoring 17.
In the end the Bulls needed assistance from somewhere, and it was nowhere to be found, as they head back to Chicago with their bodies wounded and spirits fractured.