BBOSTON – Strong start, ugly finish. That’s been the early trend this season for the Boston Celtics, and it continued Friday afternoon when the hosts fell apart late and lost 109-102 to the Chicago Bulls at the TD Garden. With the defeat, Boston has now dropped six of their last seven games overall.
The Celtics led by as many as 16 points in the first half, and they held a six-point lead over the visitors entering the fourth quarter, but Boston’s offense came undone at the seams again. The Celtics managed a paltry 11 points in the final frame, and despite an off-shooting night for the Bulls (41.1 percent overall), Chicago doubled Boston’s output (24-11) over the game’s closing 12 minutes to pull away late with the win.
Jimmy Butler scored a team-high 22 points for the Bulls, and Derrick Rose added 21 points, including 14 in the second half. Jared Sullinger had a game-high 23 points for the Celtics in the setback.
With the loss, Boston drops to 2-6 in games decided by seven points or less. Like most losses this year, the Celtics had plenty of chances to take command late and the Bulls game was no different. Both teams were locked into a one-possession affair for the majority of the final period, but the Celtics’ inability to hit any shots late (5-for-26 shooting in fourth) ruined Boston’s chances of finishing off the upset.
Brad Stevens did his best to mix things up in crunch time and end Boston’s scoring woes by drawing up plays for Sullinger, Jeff Green, and even Evan Turner, but all three players failed to deliver. Meanwhile, Joakim Noah (15 points and 14 rebounds) and Butler hit open shots and free throws on the other end of the floor to take the lead in the game’s final minute and pull away.
One notable culprit in Boston’s late-game struggles was none other than Rajon Rondo. The point guard went 1-for-8 in the fourth and missed two crucial free throws in a tie game with 1:02 remaining. He’s now shooting 32.3 percent from the free throw line on the season.
Overall, it was another disappointing result after the Celtics posted 91 points against the Bulls over the first three quarters, scoring nearly at will against an uncharacteristically soft Tom Thibodeau-coached team. Just like the recent losses at home to Phoenix and Cleveland though, Boston’s offense simply dried up late.
After the game, Brad Stevens remained upbeat despite the troublesome finish.
“The ball didn’t go in. So I think it’s as simple as that,” Stevens said of the fourth quarter scoring problems. “I thought in the last three minutes, especially, we executed pretty well. And I would obviously like to have those misses back, but that’s basketball.”
The road gets no easier for Stevens later this week, as the San Antonio Spurs come to town for another afternoon matinee on Sunday. If the Celtics can’t find some late-game offense for that affair, they will be falling further into the bottom half of the Eastern Conference by the start of December.