Celtics-Bulls review: Big plays go Bulls way

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Celtics-Bulls review: Big plays go Bulls way

BOSTON The Boston Celtics' 100-99 overtime loss to Chicago will be remembered by many for the big plays made by the Bulls in the game's final moments.

More than that, the loss serves as a reminder of how important the little things - like getting to a loose ball or boxing out - can be in determining a game's outcome.

That's why the Celtics are in head-scratching mode after Friday's loss, a game that they know was there for the taking.

"We had the game in our hands a couple times, and it just slipped through our fingers both times," said Paul Pierce. "Just little things."

Leading 88-86 with 9.4 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, officials ruled that Pierce was tied up by Joakim Noah with Noah - about five inches taller - winning the jump ball.

"It could have gone either way," Pierce said. "I thought I was fouled on that. I came out with a busted lip but the ref didn't see it that way. It was definitely a huge play of the game."

Oh, there was more.

On the ensuing possession, there was a scramble for the ball that ultimately resulted in Kirk Hinrich getting a wide open jumper that he knocked down with two seconds to play that forced overtime.

And then there was the game-winning shot by Marco Belinelli with 3.1 seconds to go, a shot that came about due to the Bulls literally getting a good bounce as the ball wound up in Belinelli's hands.

"It just goes to show that little things can prove costly in this league if you're not on point the whole game," Pierce said. "And it bit us tonight."

Not taking care of the little things was definitely a big part of the Celtics loss. Here are some other factors outlined prior to the game, and how they actually played out on Friday.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Joakim Noah controlled their last matchup in just about every way imaginable, finishing with a triple-double of 11 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. Limiting his impact to one or even two of the major categories will be huge for the Celtics.

WHAT WE SAW: Noah was indeed one of the key players for the Bulls, finishing with 14 points and 13 rebounds along with four assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs. Luol Deng: Deng's length tends to force Pierce to work a lot harder for good looks than he usually has to. But after struggling against Deng's defense last year (Pierce shot 21-for-59 in the four games against the Bulls), he comes into tonight's game having shot 6-for-10 against Chicago earlier this season.

WHAT WE SAW: Pierce had another rough outing against the Bulls, scoring 13 points on 5-for-17 shooting. Deng, who was limited in part because of a hamstring injury, had just three points on 1-for-6 shooting.

PLAYER TO WATCH: The trade rumors early in the season about Carlos Boozer have died a slow death, courtesy of him putting together a long string of strong performances. In nine of Chicago's last 10 games, Boozer has had at least 15 points and 10 rebounds. Only three other players (Artis Gilmore, Michael Jordan and Elton Brand) in Bulls history have done that over a 10-game span.

WHAT WE SAW: Boozer continues to play at an all-star level, thoroughly dominating the Celtics around the basket before finishing with 19 points and a game-high 20 rebounds.

STAT TO TRACK: The C's would do well to keep the free throw differential relatively close. New Orleans had almost twice as many free throw attempts (31) as the C's (16). And tonight, they face a Chicago team that's ranked in the top-10 in free throws made per game (18.3).

WHAT WE SAW: From the game's opening moments, it was clear that Boston was intent on getting to the free throw line more than they did in the loss to New Orleans. For the game, the C's were 20-for-28 while the Bulls were slightly better with a 23-for-32 effort.

Celtics-Bucks preview: C's preferred starting five making an impact

Celtics-Bucks preview: C's preferred starting five making an impact

BOSTON – It took Brad Stevens about eight minutes to realize his starters worked well together.

That’s how long they were on the floor to start Boston’s first preseason game back in October, opening the season with a 23-9 run against Philadelphia.

Now the rest of the NBA basketball world is starting to take notice with the Celtics (48-26) holding down the best record in the Eastern Conference with a chance to add to that tonight against the hard-charging Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks (38-36), coming off a 118-108 win at Charlotte on Tuesday, have won 12 of their last 15 games.

Boston is well aware that Milwaukee is playing some of its best basketball at the moment, led by all-star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the Celtics, that doesn’t matter.

Regardless of where they are in the Eastern Conference pecking order or who they play, the number one priority for them at this point is to continue playing good basketball.

“Every team in the NBA should want to be the best team in the NBA,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “We’re showing that we can be if we’re playing the right kind of basketball. That’s an accomplishment, to be first in the east. We understand that. But at the same time, we understand we could lose it (tonight against Milwaukee). We have to worry about (tonight’s) game and everything will take care of itself.”

Especially if Boston’s preferred starting five – Isaiah Thomas; Bradley; Jae Crowder; Al Horford and Amir Johnson – are playing together.

Although they have only played 31 games together this season, they have reeled off an impressive 24-7 record which puts them among the best starting fives in the NBA this season.

“They really have complimented each other well,” Stevens said. “But you could see it. I remember the first exhibition game (against Philadelphia), we could all see it. Before that, the second unit had given them fits a little bit, the first couple of weeks of practice. But that subsided and I thought our guys, that starting unit has been pretty good.”

And it’s not just what they do during games, either.

Setting the tone in all phases of the game, on and off the court, is vital to both the success of the starting unit and the team as a whole.

“That’s part of it; part of us being leaders on the team,” Bradley said. “We have to bring it every single day. Shoot-around, being focused, film sessions. It’s our job to try to help the bench players focus just as much as we are. We’re a team. We all have to hold each other accountable. I feel like we’re doing a great job.”

But ultimately, every team and every unit within that team is judged on how their works contribute to winning.

And when it comes to the Celtics’ starting five, there’s little argument that they get the job done better than most of the NBA’s starting units.

So when asked why they have been so successful this season, Thomas delivered a straight-no-chaser response.

“Because we’re good; like we’re really good,” Thomas said. “That’s why it’s been so successful. When we are healthy, we know how to play with each other and guys are unselfish and know their roles. We have a really good starting lineup and when healthy, we play at a really high level. We have to continue to do that and end this season on a good note.”

First-place Celtics continue to focus on playing well, not standings

First-place Celtics continue to focus on playing well, not standings

WALTHAM, Mass. – When it comes to NBA standings, no Celtic pays closer attention to it than Isaiah Thomas.
 
But the 5-foot-9 All-Star is quick to say that while he’s aware of what’s happening with other teams record-wise, Thomas, like his teammates, isn’t obsessed with it, even with the Celtics (48-26) now in first place in the East following Cleveland’s loss at San Antonio on Monday.
 
“It’s a good feeling,” Thomas said. “It’s still not the end of the year; anything can happen. It’s a nice feeling to be the number one seed for once, but we just have to continue to control what we can control.”

The fact that Boston is even in position to finish with the best record in the East is amazing when you consider injuries and illnesses have forced them to use 13 different starting lineups this season.
 
And the preferred starting five of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Amir Johnson has played together 31 times and posted an impressive 24-7 record.
 
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been consistent in his message that while having the best record in the East is nice, he’s more consumed with the team continuing to improve.
 
“It doesn’t mean a whole lot right now,” Stevens said of being in first place. “The whole idea is to make progress, get better every day and stay in the moment. You do that if you’re in last place trying to build up or whether you’re in a position where you’re fighting for seeding. Ultimately, we’ve been able to grow and get a little bit better. But I still think we can play a lot better. That’s where my focus is.”
 
And the same holds true for his players. Thomas knows how unusual this season has been for the Celtics, who continue finding ways to win despite frequently being short-handed.
 
The latest example of that involves forward Jonas Jerebko, who is questionable for Wednesday’s game against Milwaukee because of a sore left knee that limited him in Tuesday’s practice.
 
“It’s a long season. A lot of things can happen whether they be good or bad and we know that,” Thomas said. “We just try to withstand the storm we’ve had a few times this year, and continue to try and stay as positive as possible and we’ve done that. We’re in a good position right now. We just have to continue to take care of business.”
  
And that means steadily improving while piling up the wins, particularly against teams such as the Bucks (37-36), who are among a handful of teams that could potentially be Boston’s first-round opponent.
 
Milwaukee comes in having won 11 of its past 14 games.

“It makes the game that much more important,” said Celtics guard Avery Bradley. “Just like the Miami game. We want to let the teams know now, they go up against us in the playoffs, it’s no mercy. We’re going to play hard. We’re going to bring it every single night. We’re going to play Celtics basketball every single night. Them knowing that, we can scare a lot of teams if we’re playing the right way.”