CHICAGO The Boston Celtics were not playing one of their better games against Chicago on Tuesday night and there they were, down by just three points following a lay-up by Rajon Rondo with 3:40 to play in the third quarter.
"I told our coaches that this game was about to go one way or the other," recalled Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
He was right.
Chicago reeled off nine straight points to take a commanding double-digit lead and never looked back in handing Boston a third straight defeat, 100-89.
As much as Chicago's third quarter spurt was about execution, it was fueled primarily by the Bulls bringing better, more consistent effort to the floor.
"Their intensity was harder throughout the game," Rivers said.
Even sadder was that the Bulls were coming off a game at Memphis Monday night while the Celtics had been prepping for Tuesday's game in Chicago since Sunday.
There was no denying that the Bulls, from the opening tip to the final horn, were the aggressor.
And it left the Celtics a defeated bunch that's trying to make sense out of a season that's still young, but clearly slipping further and further away from the kind of season they were expecting.
Getting beat is bad enough.
But getting beat because the other team played harder than you - which is the reason behind the bulk of Boston's losses this year - only adds insult to injury.
"That's the one thing I feel we can control night-in and night-out," said Paul Pierce. "We may not shoot the ball, we may not execute the offense but to say we get outworked night-in and night-out ... I'm embarrassed to even say it. But that's just the facts."
Chicago's effort was indeed a major factor in the game's outcome. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game, and how they ultimately played out.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Celtics took just eight free throw attempts in their loss to San Antonio, so you can expect them to attack the rim more often as well as get the ball to Kevin Garnett early in the post. The eight free throw attempts were the fewest for the C's since they took five in a home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers last February.
WHAT WE SAW: The C's spent more time on the line, connecting on 14-of-19 attempts. But at no point did the Celtics establish this as a something they could go to with any consistency which is unlike the Bulls who were led by Luol Deng's 21 points that included 11-for-12 shooting from the line.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs Carlos Boozer. Bass is due for a breakout game after shooting just 2-for-8 in his last two games. That wouldn't be that big a stretch against Boozer who is not exactly known as a defensive stalwart.
WHAT WE SAW: Brandon Bass' shooting touch continues to be off, but he did provide eight rebounds which for a rebounding-challenged team like Boston, is a big deal. As for Boozer, he benefited heavily from the Celtics defensive problems. He had 21 points which included 12 in the first half.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo has rolled sevens - as in turnovers - in each of Boston's last two games. His name is all over the C's record books already, but he'll clearly be looking to avoid becoming adding another historical footnote with what would be a third straight game with seven or more turnovers - something no Celtic in franchise history has ever accomplished.
WHAT WE SAW: His turnovers were down to just three on Tuesday, so that's a start. But his ability to dominate the game, much like the Celtics, came in spurts. He finished with a game-high 26 points and eight assists but there was never really a point in the game where it seemed his strong play was going to swing the game's momentum in the C's favor.
STAT TO TRACK: Boston is looking to avoid giving up 100 points or more for the fourth straight game, which shouldn't be too difficult to do against a Chicago team playing without their starting backcourt of Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton. Regardless of the opponent, the Celtics have not had much success when opponents meet or exceed the 100-point plateau with a less-than-stellar record in such games of 3-7.
WHAT WE SAW: The Bulls are not a high-scoring team, so to give up 100 points to them like the Celtics did on Tuesday looks a lot worst than when the C's did it against Houston and San Antonio who are among the NBA's highest scoring teams.