Fred Hoiberg made a change to his starting lineup for the Bulls' road tilt against the Celtics by inserting Taj Gibson into the lineup over Nikola Mirotic, but things didn't look too much different as Chicago lost its third consecutive game thanks to a poor fourth quarter, 105-100.
The Bulls were tied heading into the fourth quarter, but an extended drought at the beginning of the quarter proved to be their undoing. Chicago started the quarter with a Mirotic-Joakim Noah frontcourt and then a Noah-Pau Gasol duo, but there was nothing going on for the first six minutes of the frame as Boston ran out to a 10-point lead.
From there, Jimmy Butler, who scored a career-high 36 points, put the team on his back to try to keep the Bulls in it. Butler scored 17 points in the fourth quarter thanks to a lot of strong moves in isolation, but Chicago just couldn't get enough stops for it to matter, which wasn't surprising given the fact that the familiar Mirotic-Gasol duo played a lot of crunch time (Isaiah Thomas torched Mirotic on one play and there was ZERO help). Gibson barely played in the fourth quarter until some late offense-defense subs.
While Gibson barely played in the fourth quarter, the Bulls actually got off to a good start with him in the starting lineup, running out to a quick eight-point lead in the first quarter. That was bolstered by some ugly play by Boston's offense (turnovers and missed open threes), but Gibson's presence certainly helped on the defensive end.
But then the Bulls gave their lead back thanks to some sloppy play of their own. Derrick Rose and Tony Snell (he was ATROCIOUS all game) had some especially bad turnovers against a Celtics team that specializes in forcing them, and that led to some easy opportunities on the other end. Boston's bench also made a major impact, with Kelly Olynyk's stretchy-ness giving Chicago some problems on the perimeter.
The Bulls' second unit, featuring Noah and Mirotic as the primary frontcourt pairing, showed some jump offensively early on, with nice ball movement leading to a handful of three-pointers. Noah was on triple-double watch early, and Doug McDermott, as he should, made sure to get his shots up.
But then things got sloppy again, leading to another Celtics run. Luckily, Butler stemmed the tide and helped the Bulls lead by three at the break thanks to 15 first-half points.
The second half got off to a disastrous start with eight Celtics points, but the Bulls answered the run before the game turned into kind of a mess. Both teams missed a lot of shots, and both teams grabbed a lot of offensive rebounds. When the dust was settled, the game was all tied at 75 apiece heading into the fateful final frame.
This was a game that was right there for the taking against a tough team on the road, but more dreadful fourth-quarter offense sealed the deal. The defense did a decent job throughout, with the Celtics' starting backourt of Thomas and Avery Bradley shooting just 10-of-30 combined (they missed a lot of good looks, though), but it wasn't good enough.
The Bulls shot just 42.9 percent overall and 6-of-21 from three, and their 18 turnovers led to 25 Celtics points. 15 offensive rebounds helped make up for some of the bricks, but the Celtics had 13 offensive rebounds of their own, and second chance points were just about even.
Outside of Butler, there wasn't much notable in terms of individual performances. Gasol had 16 and 15, but he shot just 7-of-17 and got worked multiple times by Sullinger on the boards. He also was packed by Sullinger on a low-post move.
Rose had a reasonably efficient game with 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting to go along with six assists, but he went 1-of-4 from the line and just didn't make enough of an impact in his 37 minutes. Mirotic had 10 points off the bench but was mostly awful, and McDermott had 11 points, albeit on 4-of-11 shooting.
The Bulls face the Clippers tomorrow night at home on TNT, and they haven't lost one of those games in forever. So it honestly wouldn't surprise me if they won that game. But to be quite frank, this team isn't fun to watch at all right now, and the good luck they had in close games earlier in the year has now been reversed.