The Chicago Bulls dropped the fifth game of their first round series against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night by a final score of 108-97. Though Isaiah Canaan bottled up Isaiah Thomas for three quarters and Dwyane Wade played his best offensive game of the postseason thus far, an off game from Jimmy Butler and poor officiating late in the contest ultimately became too much for the Bulls to handle down the stretch.
Contrary to what several expected heading into this one, the Bulls did not get run over from the opening tip. In fact, the Celtics struggled heavily on offense out of the gate. Boston missed their first eight attempts from 3-PT range and scored only six points through the first six minutes of the contest, which allowed the Bulls to jump out to an early lead. Meanwhile, on offense, the Bulls looked good swinging the ball and got solid initial contributions from every starter other than Isaiah Canaan. Dwyane Wade led Chicago with seven points in the first quarter, but the highlight of the period was definitely this beautiful lob feed from Robin Lopez to Jimmy Butler:
Predictably, the Celtics shook off their cold streak from downtown, and they closed out the quarter with an Avery Bradley-fueled 13-4 run over the final four minutes to retake the lead. As a result, the Bulls found themselves down 23-20 after one.
The start of the second quarter was a lot of bad basketball for both teams. Dwyane Wade, after a good albiet visually-unappealing first quarter, proceeded to miss all three of his next shot attempts and had a stretch where he got stripped on three out of four consecutive possessions. Fortunately, the Celtics went on to yet again miss eight straight attempts from distance, so this game actually remained tied at 35 all midway through the period.
Although Boston missed a ton of open looks (as evidenced by their 6-25 shooting from long range in the first half), a huge reason why they struggled so much on offense in the first half was because of Isaiah Canaan’s defense on Isaiah Thomas. Though he did get caught cheating the wrong way a few times, Canaan did a great job of staying in front of Thomas on drives while also avoiding cheap shooting fouls that would have led to free points for IT. Thomas scored only seven points and did not register a field goal until there were less than 45 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Unfortunately, a sputtering Bulls offense that at one point had to rely solely on Anthony Morrow for production couldn’t definitively recapture the lead, and the Bulls went into the locker room down 52-50.
The third quarter was a much more watchable affair for Bulls fans, mostly thanks to Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez. Wade’s touch around the rim seems to have left him recently and his defense continued to look lethargic, but he did an excellent job of facilitating the Bulls’ offense and added some points of his own on long shots (including a three). Meanwhile, Lopez caught fire and proceeded to punish the Celtics with some nice hookshots and his signature offensive rebounding. However, his lone miss in the game up to that point will likely be remembered as the most egregious “Shaqtin’ a Fool” moment of the NBA Playoffs:
The Celtics continued to match the Bulls’ offense with a spectacular scoring performance from Avery Bradley and excellent passing from Al Horford, and two late freethrows from Jae Crowder gave the Celtics the lead with six seconds remaining in the period. But then Jimmy Butler took the ball down the court and hit a deep three to give the Bulls an 81-79 lead heading into the final quarter of play:
The fourth quarter was hard for Bulls fans to watch on a variety of fronts. The Bulls’ offense looked okay early on before completely falling apart after the first four minutes, and Chicago would go on register more turnovers (6) than made field goals (5) in the final period. For the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas finally got going and scored 11 of his 24 total points in the fourth quarter, the majority of which came on freethrows.
Speaking of which, if Fred Hoiberg was critical of the officiating after the last game, he had better go on a tirade in the press conference after this one, because the fourth quarter was an absolute joke. There was a three minute window during the final period that saw Boston draw seven fouls resulting in nine points to push the game out of reach, and there were several blown calls on both ends from a referee crew that has been just flat-out bad both ways the whole series. At one point, Jae Crowder leg-locked Robin Lopez while on the ground to prevent Lopez from rotating for a block, and then after Lopez finally flung himself free from Crowder’s grasp, they granted Al Horford two freethrows:
Jae Crowder lo saca con la patita así a Robin Lopez pic.twitter.com/KJEzF9hnS8— NBA para todos (@NBAenlinea) April 27, 2017
Lopez sarcastically clapped at the officials after this happened and they promptly hit him with a technical foul. Though merited, it was the second tech of the quarter for the Bulls after the refs called an extremely questionable tech on Dwyane Wade for complaining about the officating a few minutes prior. Regardless, the poor offense to close the game from the Bulls combined with the Celtics entering the bonus barely over halfway through the period proved to be too much for Chicago to handle, and the game mercifully ended with a final score of 108-97 in favor of Boston.
Wade had his best offensive game of the postseason so far with 26 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists but played laughably bad defense all night that resulted in points for the Celtics on multiple possessions. Butler shot a poor 6-15 from the field and scored on 14 points but did chip in eight rebounds and six assists. For the Celtics, Avery Bradley scored a career playoff-high 24 points on 11-19 shooting, and Al Horford played brilliantly with 21 points on 7-11 shooting and nine assists.
The series now heads back to Chicago with all of the momentum in favor of Boston. Obviously, Rajon Rondo’s availability for the next game could completely change the dynamic, but after watching how this game got away from the Bulls in the fourth quarter, it’s hard to be optimistic that this series will go to seven games. Game 6 will tip off Friday at 7:00 CT on ESPN.