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Celtics bullied on boards in 105-99 loss to Chicago

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Rebounding woes, too many fouls committed, and a flurry of threes from the Bulls’ seemingly shooting-deficient backcourt led to a long night and Boston’s first loss.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Giving your opponent second-chance points is an easy way to lose a game. When you give them to one of the greatest players ever, it’s as good as a sure bet.

The Celtics (1-1) scrapped their way back against Chicago Thursday night after trailing for all but several seconds in the third. Al Horford (4/9, 11 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) had just hit two free throws to bring the deficit (which stood at 15 at its largest point) down to two. Dwyane Wade (7/18, 22 pts, 6 reb, 5 ast) led the Bulls up the floor, found his spot from mid-range, pulled up and air-balled.

Boston had its best shot in sight, but it was gone as fast as it came. Jaylen Brown (4/7, 8 pts) got caught with a traveling violation seconds into their possession, giving Wade another chance. This time he buried a three down their throat from the corner, putting the Bulls (1-0) up five and sealing a win in his Chicago homecoming, 105-99.

The Bulls shredded the Celtics’ starting lineup early. Maneuvering inside the arc with three early makes from Taj Gibson (8/13, 18 pts, 10 reb), Chicago then surprisingly expanded the floor with threes from Jimmy Butler (6/17, 24 pts, 7 reb), Wade, and old friend Rajon Rondo (who entered 7 of 9 on threes for his career vs. Boston).

With Chicago hitting 10 of their first 19 attempts, the fast-break offense was taken off the table for the Celtics early, and the results were disastrous. It took almost 10 minutes for Isaiah Thomas (10/15, 25 pts, 4 ast) to pick off a pass and make a driving lay-up for the team’s first points on the run. The half-court sets to which the Bulls limited the Cs were sloppy, with turnovers and misses (Boston started shooting 4 of 13) plaguing their effort.

An early ten-point deficit opened up as an extension of the adversity Boston tasted vs. Brooklyn last night. Two post-ups by Horford finally sparked some offense, leading to a 10-2 Boston run toward the end of the frame. As time ran out, with the Bulls up ten, Rondo fired a dart between Thomas and Jae Crowder (4/6, 14 pts, 6 reb) to a floating Wade, who almost finished a reverse alley-oop slam from half-court. It hit the back of the rim and bounced out, sending the Cs into the second down 30-20.

The situation changed for the better upon switching sides. Boston continued their slow-paced offense, mandated by Chicago’s makes and ability to get to the line. Led by Terry Rozier (3/7, 8 pts, 4 reb, 4 ast) on the ball though, threes began to fall. The makes from outside starting with Rozier, followed by treys from Avery Bradley (6/12, 16 pts, 6 reb, 5 ast) and Jonas Jerebko (1/3, 4 pts) that cut the lead to seven.

The offense moved inside the arc with Gerald Green (1/4, 2 pts) hitting a floater, Horford drilling a mid-ranger, and Bradley driving to the rim to bring Boston within three. A few minutes of stagnant offense followed on both ends, with Crowder catching Wade on a key charge, but the latter struck right back with another three before the two-minute mark.

A few plays later, Crowder bumped into Butler, and tensions soared between Thomas and Rondo, who began yelling back and forth behind the backs of teammates and officials. All four received technicals, and Butler drew the charge after minutes of review.

Then the Bulls turned on the jets again. Wade hit a smooth and-one behind the defense at the net and helped Chicago push the lead back to eight before the half at 57-49. The trio of Rondo, Wade, and Butler shot seven for eight from beyond the arc in the first and second frames.

The Celtics’ 30-17 rebounding disadvantage loomed large entering the third as well. Robin Lopez (3/8, 8 pts, 8 reb) tipped in a miss to start the second half. Gibson’s early post activity mirrored his success in the first, and a 4-2 swing from the Bulls forced another early Brad Stevens timeout.

Some offense finally followed afterward off of Stevens’s emphasized ball movement, as a big-to-big pass from Horford to Zeller got the Celts three points. Then Horford faked from the corner and drove to the rim, bringing their run to 5-0. They surged forward with Rondo (1/9, 4 pts, 6 reb, 9 ast) missing a lay-up off a wild Horford cross-court toss, leading to three more Boston buckets to pull within one.

Thomas’s second three gave the Celts their first lead of the night with under four minutes to go in the third, but it was short-lived. Chicago poured three straight buckets down to push a 7-0 run in less than one minute.

The rebounding issue reached a dire point with the Bulls attaining a 14-2 offensive rebounding advantage by the end of the third quarter. The final one of those led to a Nikola Mirotic (6/11, 15 pts, 9 reb) three and a 79-73 lead.

The fourth quarter further showcased Chicago’s physical control over the game, pushing their free-throw-attempt advantage to 26-12 in the first few minutes. That combination of steady free-throw makes, perimeter shots falling, and rebounding dominance maintained their lead steadily. Then Michael Carter-Williams (2/6, 5 pts, 6 reb) hit his first two shots with the Bulls (including a three), bringing them back to a double-digit advantage.

Boston stayed in the game all the while, even after a pair of missed free throws by Thomas. He bounced back with a three and lay-up to diminish another Chicago lead past the five-minute mark. At 95-90, Bradley stopped Wade in front of the rim, bringing the Bulls’ scoring drought to three minutes before Rondo missed a defensive rebound, giving Thomas the chance to blow by the defense and bring the deficit to three.

A 16-4 run culminated in two Crowder free throws to make it 99-97 Bulls. On the ensuing possession, Thomas drove and dished to Horford in the corner with space, but Horford missed a potential go-ahead three. Crowder ran into Butler on the rebound unwisely, sending him to the line in the bonus, and Butler raised their lead to four.

Horford bounced back off his miss with a pair of free throws, and a Wade airball gave the Celtics another chance to tie. However, Jaylen Brown got caught with a travel call at the worst time possible. Wade got another chance, and this time he buried Boston for the fourth and final time outside the arc—a fitting end to a game where Chicago soared on second-chance points.