Bulls down Celtics in OT slugfest

984979.jpg

Bulls down Celtics in OT slugfest

BOSTON Rajon Rondo. National TV. The Chicago Bulls.

All the recipes for a big night from the recently-named all-star starter.

And Rondo, true to form, didn't disappoint with a season-high 30 points to go with seven assists.

But the best of Rondo wasn't good enough to get the victory as the Celtics suffer a 100-99 overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls with Carlos Boozer (19 points, 20 rebounds) and Joakim Noah (14 points, 13 rebounds) leading the way.

Chicago's Marco Belinelli drilled a 14-foot fadeaway jumper with 3.1 seconds to play in overtime for the game-winning basket. Boston quickly in-bounded the ball to Courtney Lee, who dribbled up court and launched a 3-pointer that he unsuccessfully tried to bank in as time expired.

In addition to getting a big game from Rondo who fouled out with 1:16 to play in overtime, Boston also got a strong game from Jared Sullinger who had seven points and 15 rebounds before he too joined Rondo on the bench after picking up his sixth personal foul with 50 seconds to play.

Making Friday's win even tougher to swallow was that the C's made a slew of defensive stops in the fourth despite playing the entire game without their best defender Avery Bradley who was out with a rib injury.

Boston did not take its first lead of the night until Rondo made a free throw with 4:37 to play in regulation that gave the C's an 80-79 lead.

The two teams went back and fourth until Kevin Garnett made a pair of free throws with 20.1 seconds to play in regulation that gave the C's an 88-85 lead in the fourth.

After Chicago's Kirk Hinrich made a free throw to make it an 88-86 game, the Celtics called a time-out.

Out of the time-out, Bulls center Joakim Noah forced a jump ball between himself and Paul Pierce with 9.4 seconds to play

Noah won the jump ball, and after a mild scramble at the other end of the floor, Hinrich hit the game-tying jumper with two seconds to play.

Garnett's off-balance jumper was well off the mark as time expired in regulation.

C's guard Leandro Barbosa got his second start of the season in place of Bradley who was out because of a rib injury suffered in Boston's 90-78 loss to New Orleans on Wednesday.

And it didn't take long for the Bulls to take advantage of the Celtics playing without Bradley, their best perimeter defender.

Chicago guard Richard Hamilton, the player Bradley would have opened the game guarding, didn't waste much time going to work against Barbosa who is at least five inches shorter.

Hamilton's ability to operate in the post against the smaller Barbosa allowed the Bulls to control the action most of the night. Hamilton finished with 20 points.

In addition to that, not having Bradley meant that the C's were without their best on-the-ball-defender whose ability to pressure guards the length of the floor takes time off the shot clock and even more important, pressure off the C's defense.

On Friday, Chicago's guards brought the ball up court with little to no pressure all game.

Even without Bradley, the Celtics managed to stay within striking distance most of the night.

Boston fell behind by as many as 10 points in the first quarter before cutting Chicago's lead to 23-19.

A 4-0 spurt to start the quarter tied things up, but the Bulls - as they did all night - responded with a 13-4 scoring binge of their own to regain control.

Later in the game, a jumper by Brandon Bass cut Chicago's lead to 58-56. Bulls forward Carlos Boozer turned it over which gave Boston a chance to tie the game or take the lead.

However, a cross-court pass to Pierce from Rondo bounced off Pierce's knees and went out of bounds.

On the ensuing possession, Noah scored on a lay-up and the Celtics spent the bulk of the third quarter trying to cut into a multiple-possession deficit.

Boston continued to scrap in the fourth, even cutting it to 70-68 with a Garnett jumper, at the 10:06 mark.

Bulls head coach and former C's assistant Tom Thibodeau did the same thing he did whenever the Celtics seemed to be tilting the game's momentum towards the home team - he called a time-out.

And just about every time he did so, the Bulls would respond with a positive play to re-establish their control of the game.

Belinelli scored on a driving lay-up, only for Jared Sullinger making a it a two-point game (72-70) on a lay-up.

Once again, the C's positioned themselves to tie the game or take the lead, but Rajon Rondo's shot attempt over former Celtic Nate Robinson was off the mark.

And the Bulls capitalized on Boston's lost opportunity as Robinson drew a foul and made both free throws to push the C's lead back to four points (74-70).

Stevens: Thomas, C's must make right play, not force shots

celtics_isaiah_thomas_1_042616.jpg

Stevens: Thomas, C's must make right play, not force shots

BOSTON - Isaiah Thomas is good to go for Game 6, though it's yet to be determined how much the ankle will affect him.

Either way, he can expect much of the focus to be on him throughout the game, as it has been for the entire series.

In Game 5 specifically, though, the Hawks stopped Thomas in a way they haven't been able to all series. The result? Just seven points for the C's leading scorer. They brought the double-team, and sometimes even the triple-team, making him unable to score.

But though Thomas' main objective is to score, as the starting point guard he's needed to do much more than that.

"You just have to make the right basketball play," Stevens said when asked if Thomas needs to be more aggressive when he's trapped. "He’s going to have the ball a ton for us, he’s going to be off the ball on actions for us, he’s going to have to read when he should screen, he’s going to have to read when he gets the ball how he’s being played, and just make the right basketball play.

"There’s certainly things you can do to alleviate some of that. But I felt we attacked it really well at the start of the game. Certainly part of their scoring runs was some bad offense on our part in the latter parts of the game. I left thinking Isaiah made a lot of the right basketball plays. That’s his charge – he has to do that, and we’ll follow suit."

Following suit with making the right decision - and hitting the shot - is something the C's couldn't do much of in Game 5. If Boston wants its playoff run to continue, it's going to have to be a team effort.

"We just have to make the right read, whether it’s catch and shoot or whether it’s catch and rip and drive," Stevens said. "Somebody else gets in the paint and makes the right read, and that’s part of it. We have good players who can do that, I believe they can and Isaiah does too. But Isaiah can’t force. If they’re going to put two to the ball, that’s when you have to make the right basketball play."

Stevens: Celtics shootaround resembled 'typical day'

celtics_brad_stevens_012716.jpg

Stevens: Celtics shootaround resembled 'typical day'

BOSTON - Hours before the biggest game of their careers, the Boston Celtics walked into the TD Garden and took part in the team's walkthrough like they have done before any old game.

This is far from any old game. The team's playoff lives are on the line after a no-show in Atlanta. The Celtics have every reason to be jacked up headed into this one - and they most likely will get to that level right around pregame introductions - but following the lead of their level-headed coach has gotten them this far, and that isn't about to change.

"When the guys walk in, they came in, we went through our shootaround. Typical day," Stevens said. "The focus is always pretty good. It was good again today. Just ready to compete and excited to play in this building."

The Celtics should be excited to play in this building. They've played exceptionally well here as of late, beating the Hawks in both of their home playoff games. The fans brought their "A" game in those two games, and it's a foregone conclusion they'll bring it for Game 6.

When asked if players really can feed off the fans, Stevens answered by saying that without question they can.

"I've said this many times, I've been so impressed ever since I've been here with the Celtics fans," Stevens said. "You can clearly feel the energy levels increasing as the months go by and as the days go by with this group. And certainly the last few months with the way our guys have played in here and the amount of energy in here. It's been incredible. It's been fun to be a part of. Hopefully we can continue."

Olynyk's shoulder feeling better heading into Game 6

kelly_olynyk_032116.jpg

Olynyk's shoulder feeling better heading into Game 6

BOSTON – Even during pre-game warmups, it was something that hasn’t been seen on the TD Garden floor in quite a while – Kelly Olynyk raising up for long, long 3-balls that hit nothing but the bottom of the net a la Steph Curry-style.

The 7-foot center cites his injured right shoulder feeling better – a lot better actually - for his much-improved confidence.

And the timing could not be any better as the Celtics prepare to fight for their playoff lives tonight against Atlanta which holds a 3-2 series lead and could close out this series with a win tonight.

The Hawks are one of the better teams in the East, but have certainly benefited from a number of Celtics being either out because of injuries (Avery Bradley, hamstring) or limited as is the case with Olynyk who did not play in Games 2 and 3 while seeing less than four minutes in Game 4.

When I asked Olynyk whether this was the best he has felt in this series, he responded, “by far.”

“It’s getting better every day,” he told CSNNE.com. “It’s getting stronger. The motion is coming back … time heals everything, right? The further along we get the better it gets.”

During the regular season, Olynyk averaged a career-high 10.0 points per game along with 4.1 rebounds in 20.2 minutes while shooting a team-best 40.5 percent from 3-point range.

In this series, Olynyk has averaged just 0.7 points, 1.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists in just 8.7 minutes per game while shooting just 14.3 percent from the field which includes him missing both of his 3-point attempts in the series.

But health-wise, this is as good an opportunity for him to break out of his funk and do his part to help the Celtics live to play another game.

“The motion feels good,” he said. “A little discomfort but now it’s doing good. That’s where you want to be going into this game.”