NBA

Boston Celtics fend off the Chicago Bulls late in the fourth quarter, winning 107-99

Boston Celtics fend off the Chicago Bulls late in the fourth quarter, winning 107-99

In the middle of Boston CelticsAt 21-5 to start the 2022-23 regular season, only one team seemed to really frustrate them: the Chicago Bulls, who picked up two blowout wins over the Celtics during a stretch in which the other three losses came in overtime. The Bulls have largely had a mercurial season, but for whatever reason, they’ve competed hard against the Celtics this season. That trend continued again tonight, but finally, the Celtics ended the season against Chicago in a 2-2 tie with a 107-99 win.

Jayson Tatum led the way for the Celtics with 32 points, supported by 20 points from Grant Williams and 19 from Jaylen Brown. The Bulls lost star DeMar DeRozan to an injury early in the second half, but still managed to keep the game close thanks to 27 points from a resurgent Zach LaVine and 21 from center Nikola Vucevic.

Two days after Tatum expressed his desire to have Robert Williams III back in the starting lineup, he got his wish. With Marcus Smart (bruised left knee) sidelined, Joe Mazzulla opted to return the fourth-year center to his starting role. The move paid immediate dividends as Williams quickly worked his way to a pair of finishes in the paint off teammates’ feeds, while adding a blocked shot and setting a series of quality screens in the first quarter .

Alongside Williams, both Tatum (16 points) and Brown (15) were effective in the first half, and the bench contributed a solid 15 points collectively. But the Bulls played the Celtics as tough as they have all season, refusing to allow Boston to gain much distance for most of the half. However, as the second quarter wound down, the Celtics went on a 15-5 run to finally give them a couple of possessions. They went into the break with a lead again, 59-50.

A scary moment came early in the third quarter, when DeRozan hit the floor while trying to work Al Horford off the dribble. He hit the floor after what appeared to be a non-contact knee injury, and was down for a while. DeRozan remained in the game after the subsequent TV timeout and appeared to have avoided a major injury, but he returned to the locker room shortly afterward and was quickly ruled out for the night with a strained right quad.

The second half started with a Chicago surge, rallying with one possession early in the third quarter. But as play resumed after DeRozan’s injury, the balance tipped heavily in the Celtics’ favor. Led by a surge from Tatum, they flipped the script on Chicago midway through the third, extending their lead into the final frame, 84-73.

Even without DeRozan on the court, the Bulls refused to go quietly. It was far from an explosive run, but they clawed their way back to within five points in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, aided by a long scoreless streak by the Celtics’ offense. It was a push-and-pull game from there, as the Celtics fought to extend their lead, but battled through some open looks before LaVine connected on a deep, contested three to cut the lead to 96. -91 with just under four minutes to play.

LaVine struck again moments later, following a 3-pointer by Nikola Vucevic with another of his own to put Chicago up by two. A pair of free throws by Tatum and a layup by Vucevic later, the game came down to a crucial sequence with less than a minute to play. LaVine couldn’t connect on a mid-range jumper, and the Celtics let the clock run, leading to a huge three by Horford with 24 seconds left in regulation.

From there, Tatum put the game on ice.

The Celtics will then begin a back-to-back against a pair of teams missing their star players, facing the New Orleans Pelicans (without Zion Williamson) this Wednesday at 7:30pm EST on NBC Sports Boston.



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