Celtics escape Chicago with a hard-earned win, 101-95

939545.jpg

Celtics escape Chicago with a hard-earned win, 101-95

CHICAGO You just knew that sooner or later the Chicago Bulls were going to make a run and force the Boston Celtics to scurry for defensive stops and a much-needed bucket or two.

It has been like that the last couple of years, especially at the United Center.

But rather than stick to the usual script, the Celtics ad-libbed this one and delivered an unexpected ending in Chicago - a Celtics victory as Boston managed to edge the undermanned Bulls, 101-95.

In addition to Derrick Rose (torn ACL, left knee), the Bulls (4-3) also played without Kirk Hinrich who was out with a hamstring injury. Replacing Hinrich in the starting lineup was former Celtic Nate Robinson, who had 11 points and seven rebounds.

Rajon Rondo led the way with a near triple-double of 20 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists.

His last assist came on a baseline dunk by Brandon Bass with 22.4 seconds to play that all but secured the Celtics' win.

Not only did Monday's victory push the Celtics (4-3) above-.500 for the first time this season, it also snapped a five-game losing streak at the United Center.

In addition, Boston's 101 points scored also snapped the Bulls 15-game streak (dating back to last season) of limiting opponents to less than 100 points.

But the Bulls did their best to keep the game interesting up until the very end.

With the Celtics ahead 95-91, Luol Deng missed a pair of free throws. The Celtics, about as rebounding-challenged a team as you'll find in the NBA, failed to secure the loose ball that ultimately wound up in Deng's hands for a lay-up.

And just like that, the Celtics' comfortable lead was a one-possession game, 95-93, with 49.5 seconds to play.

Doc Rivers called a time-out, knowing full well his team was on the verge of letting yet another game in his hometown, get away from his club.

But down the stretch, Boston got all the necessary stops defensively in addition to some much-needed free throws.

Chicago's late-game surge was indeed too little, too late on a night when the Celtics led from the very beginning.

Signs of a Bulls comeback surfaced in the third quarter when Chicago had trimmed Boston's lead which peaked at 14 points in the quarter, back to single digits.

It appeared that would be their deficit going into the fourth quarter, but a last-second 3-pointer by Jared Sullinger gave the Celtics an 82-70 lead going into the decisive fourth quarter.

Boston opened the game with a steady dose of timely shot-making and stellar defense as their lead peaked at 11 points in the first.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Hornets

WATCH: Celtics vs. Hornets

Tune into CSN to watch the Celtics host the Hornets at TD Garden. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by McDonald's on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game Preview: C's, Hornets heading in opposite directions

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]

- Live Extra FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Celtics: All of the most recent news and notes

- Talk about the game via social media on CSN's Pulse, presented by Ford

Celtics-Hornets preview: Boston, Charlotte heading in opposite directions

Celtics-Hornets preview: Boston, Charlotte heading in opposite directions

BOSTON -- The last time Boston saw the Charlotte Hornets last month, both teams were streaking in the wrong direction with each coming in having lost three in a row.

Both come into tonight’s game streaking, although in two very different directions.

Boston (25-15) has won 12 of its last 15 games to firmly establish itself as the third-best team in the East behind Cleveland and Toronto. Meanwhile the Hornets (20-20) are on the cusp of falling below .500 for the first time this season after losing their last four games.

Still, Celtics coach Brad Stevens has seen enough of this Hornets team to know that a win tonight won’t come easily.

“This is a good team,” Stevens said. “We all know Charlotte. They don’t beat themselves. We’ve had to play really well against those guys. This is going to be a tough one, as we all know.”

Figuring out why these two teams are trending in opposite directions isn’t all that complicated.

For the Celtics, their success of late has hinged heavily on their ability to make 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s problems have had a lot to do with a tough slate of road games (all four of their recent losses were on the road) and their inability to make shots which has been an issue in some form for them all season regardless of the opponent.

Look at the last four games, all of which the Hornets lost while the Celtics won three of their four games in that span.

The Hornets rank 21st in scoring with a 101.5 points per game average while the Celtics average 110.8 points which ranks 8th in the league.

Charlotte ranks dead-last in the league the last four games when it comes to shooting the ball (40.5 percent), while Boston comes in 18th at 46.0 percent.

But it’s the 3-point shot and its impact on having an effective field goal percentage, that really separates these two.

Boston has averaged a league-best 15.3 made 3-pointers in the last four games while the Hornets and their 9.8 made 3’s ranks 20th.

And as far as its impact on eFG%, Boston comes in with the eighth-best eFG% in the league (54.8 percent) while the Hornets next-to-last in the NBA with an eFG% of .462.

So what does that mean tonight?

Boston will look to continue being fueled offensively by good ball movement and attacking the rim which in turn should result in lots of good looks from 3-point range which is clearly a strength of this team.

Charlotte will search for other sources of offense besides former UConn star Kemba Walker who is on the short list of candidates for a spot on this year’s Eastern Conference all-star roster.

As was the case in Charlotte’s 102-93 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, an off-night shooting for Walker (17 points, 7-for-23 shooting with three assists) left the Hornets extremely vulnerable to defeat. Similar struggles tonight will provide a similar ending for Charlotte which would allow both teams to continue streaking along … something the Celtics wouldn’t mind at all.