Final: Bulls 101, Celtics 93. Hats off to the Bulls, who get a tremendous performance out of their guard duo of Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich, streaking to victory over the Celtics at the United Center.
Rose pours in a career-high 39 points, Hinrich gets a season-high 30, and the Celtics fall short in their quest for a big win in the race for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Meanwhile, the Bulls have found new life in their own playoff race, moving a game up on the Raptors with a game to play.
Fourth quarter, 43.7 seconds, Bulls 95-88: Hinrich drives another dagger into the Celtics' hearts. What a huge night for the Bulls' shooting guard. The Celtics have let him hit one clutch jumper too many down the stretch. The lead is once again seven, and the Celtics may be out of time to claw their way back.
Fourth quarter, 1:15, Bulls 93-86: Del Negro draws up a play to get Kirk Hinrich open for 3. It works. The Bulls go up seven. The C's are in bad shape.
Fourth quarter, 1:31, Bulls 90-86: Every time Derrick Rose scores, Paul Pierce answers. The C's captain throws down a huge dunk here, bringing Boston back to within four. Now Vinny Del Negro needs a timeout, as the Celtics are charging back and the Bulls are back on their heels.
Fourth quarter, 2:24, Bulls 88-81: And now Rose hits two shots. He's 7-of-8 from the free-throw line tonight, keeping the Bulls in front by scoring at will down the stretch. He's got 32, and the Bulls are in very good shape.
Fourth quarter, 2:24, Bulls 86-81: A big stop for the Celtics, and a big fast break by Ray Allen to get to the basket and draw contact from Derrick Rose. Trusty old Ray knocks down both free throws, and the C's are back to within five. Not dead yet.
Fourth quarter, 3:33, Bulls 83-77: The Celtics have turned it on offensively — first a 3 from Nate Robinson, then a beautiful give-and-go with Kevin Garnett feeding Ray Allen for a driving dunk. The Celtics look alive, but they still need a couple of stops if they want to come all the way back.
Fourth quarter, 4:41, Bulls 81-72: Kendrick Perkins out, Michael Finley in. The Celtics are going small in an attempt to knock down a few shots and get back in this game. It's a desperate move for this point in the game, but it just might work if the Celtics' shooters can find their touch.
Fourth quarter, 6:00, Bulls 81-72: Another long drought for the Celtics, as the Bulls begin to establish control of the tempo in the fourth quarter. Boston looks strangely out of its element.
Whatever happened to the Celtics' execution offensively? This doesn't look like the same team that took over in the third quarter — if Pierce isn't dominating on every possession, the C's look lost. They need to bring ubuntu back.
Fourth quarter, 7:15, Bulls 78-72: Derrick Rose is a competitor, and he really doesn't want to lose. Especially not to Rajon Rondo.
Rose outworks Rondo again, driving past him to the basket and scoring on yet another running jumper in the lane. Make it 27 points, five assists and five rebounds now for the Bulls' All-Star point guard, who is using his size and his athleticism to outplay Rajon Rondo tonight.
The Bulls are up six and look strong in their quest to overtake the Raptors in the playoff race. This will be a test of how badly the C's want to win.
Fourth quarter, 9:34, Bulls 73-68: This is what Doc Rivers means when he talks about the ball "sticking" in the Celtics' offense.
The C's have stopped making the extra pass. They're settling for jumpers rather than executing their sets effectively and creating better shots, and it's leading to blown possessions that could spell the difference in a close basketball game.
Doc needs to get his Celtics to stick to what's tried and true — Rondo driving and scoring, Pierce hitting his mid-range shots, KG connecting from the top of the key. In a game like this, with the Bulls fighting for their lives and refusing to lose, the Celtics can't afford any mental mistakes.
End of third quarter, Celtics 68-67: With Tony Allen out tonight, Doc Rivers continues to tinker with his rotation, auditioning Marquis Daniels and Nate Robinson for a role in the Celtics' postseason run.
Daniels has responded admirably, infusing a little bit of aggression into his offensive game and hitting a couple of big shots to help the Celtics keep pace with the Bulls.
Chicago has Rose, Hinrich and Joakim Noah all clicking offensively, as Vinny Del Negro tries to use his team's youth and energy to beat the Celtics with an up-tempo brand of basketball. In the next 12 minutes, we'll see if he can pull it off.
Third quarter, 2:56, Celtics 66-63: For the first time in nearly a month, Ray Allen misses a free throw. But he makes up for it from beyond the arc, drilling a key 3 to put the Celtics back in front.
Ray's miss at the line with 3:28 left is his first in 46 attempts, dating back to March 14 in Cleveland. But the 3-ball he makes 32 seconds later gives the Celtics a three-point lead at 66-63, and gives Allen 16 points in this game on 5-of-10 shooting, 3-of-5 from long range.
Where would Boston be in this game without its Big Three?
Third quarter, 6:08, Celtics 57-52: The Celtics are gearing up for playoff time, and you can see their captain building up the strength to carry them.
Pierce now has 20 points on 10-of-14 shooting. He's taking matters into his own hands and overpowering these Bulls, willing his team to victory.
If he can do this a few more times in the postseason, the Celtics will be in good shape.
Third quarter, 9:02, Celtics 50-46: It's the Paul Pierce show, and everyone else is just a spectator.
The Celtics' captain has scored eight consecutive points, and momentum has swung decidedly back in Boston's direction. Looks a little bit like Luol Deng and Taj Gibson have fallen asleep defensively, and the C's are taking advantage in a big way.
Halftime, Bulls 44-41: Leave it to the Celtics' veterans to spring off the bench and breathe new life into their team.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are both back, and they're both hitting everything. It's going to take a complete team effort to beat Derrick Rose, and that effort has to start from the C's two leaders.
The Bulls are still in control of this game, but the Celtics have taken strong steps toward getting back in it.
Rose has 16 to lead all scorers; KG and Pierce have eight points each for the Celtics.
Second quarter, 3:20, Bulls 37-29: This is what happens when Rose comes to life. He's absolutely killing the Celtics now, driving and knocking down shots at will.
It's been over four minutes since the Celtics have scored a point. They're getting decent looks, too, but just nothing seems to be falling. Eerily reminiscent of the Celtics' second-quarter collapse at home Friday night against the Wizards.
The Bulls are on runs of 12-0 and 18-2. The Celtics look frustrated, but not defeated. They've just got to keep working.
Second quarter, 6:05, 29-29: The Bulls just seem to live and die with the electrifying play of Derrick Rose. When Rose is on, this team is really on.
Rose is now shooting 6-for-10 for a game-high 12 points, the last two coming on a huge steal that he keeps himself and carries coast to coast for a windmill dunk. The United Center crowd is into it, and the Bulls have found new life in the second quarter.
Kevin Garnett is back on the Celtics' bench, and he doesn't seem to like what he's seeing.
Second quarter, 9:21, Celtics 27-19: The Bulls are a young, hungry team fighting for a playoff spot. But unfortunately, they're showing that youth.
Rookie mistakes all over the place. They're rushing bad shots, they're turning the ball over, they've given up one layup each to Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace. The C's are in firm control of this game, taking their largest lead of the night at eight points.
Vinny Del Negro needs this timeout to talk some sense into his team. The Bulls have to get their heads back on straight if they want a chance in this game.
End of first quarter, Celtics 20-17: Can the Celtics hold onto this thing without playing any forwards? They might have to.
Marquis Daniels is in trouble now with two fouls. Paul Pierce has his two. Kevin Garnett is in the locker room now, getting looked at for the cut above his left eye. And yes, Tony Allen is still sick.
I guess we're going to see a lot of Glen Davis tonight. And I hear that Rasheed Wallace guy is still getting minutes occasionally.
It's a miracle the C's have held a lead for most of this first quarter, considering their lack of personnel and their lack of shooting ability.
First quarter, 3:04, Celtics 14-13: Both teams are playing their own style of basketball — the Bulls are going aggressive and up-tempo, while the Celtics opt for methodical ball movement.
The Celtics' one-point lead is deceptive. They're executing so well that they could easily be up five or 10 by now, but they ran into an ugly shooting streak where they missed eight straight field-goal attempts. Overall, the C's are 5-for-16 from the floor tonight, 31.2 percent. Not so good. If the shots start falling, the C's might start pulling away.
First quarter, 6:13, Bulls 11-10: With Paul Pierce in early foul trouble and Tony Allen out sick, the Celtics are not going to have an easy night against Chicago's wing scoring duo of Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich.
Pierce has picked up his second foul, Marquis Daniels has taken the floor in his place, and the Bulls have rattled off a fast 7-0 run to reclaim the lead midway through the first quarter. And Rose is starting to turn it on.
First quarter, 9:26, Celtics 7-4: As expected, we're seeing a whole lot of Rajon Rondo driving and attacking these Bulls. There's nothing he loves more.
On one possession, he drives the lane and scores; on another, he drives, draws two defenders, then kicks it out to Ray Allen for an open 3. The Celtics have sent the message early: It's Rondo's energy that will propel them in this game. How will Derrick Rose answer?
7:55 p.m.: A health update prior to the start of tonight's game: Tony Allen is out with the flu, leaving the Celtics short a key defensive stopper against Luol Deng.
8 a.m.: The Celtics are finally starting to see the light at the end of that tunnel. They've played 80 games over five-plus months, and they're down to their last two before the ones that really count. And they enter these final couple of days secure in the fact that their spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs is locked up.
Their opponents Tuesday night aren't as lucky.
The Chicago Bulls enter the final two games of the regular season at 39-41, just one game ahead of the 39-42 Toronto Raptors in the loss column. The Raptors, by virtue of a 2-1 edge in their season series, hold the tiebreaker advantage, meaning the Bulls are one loss away from falling back into ninth place.
For the Celtics, this game is a big one for playoff seeding — they're fading fast in the race for the No. 3 seed in the East, and they need a win to stay alive. For the Bulls, it's even bigger. Their lives are on the line.