The Celtics fell to only one game ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers in the race for the Atlantic Division crown.
Fourth quarter, :25.2, Bulls 91-86: Allen appeared to hit a 3 to cut the deficit to four points, but upon review his toe barely touched the red line of the arc. Regardless, after a defensive stop the Celtics still have life, but barely.
Fourth quarter, :54, Bulls 91-84: More than the overal rebounding disparity, which seems to be constantly in favor of the Celtics' opponents, it is the inability to grab clutch rebounds that is haunting the Celtics.
The Bulls had four offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter alone, contributing to the Bulls' big final stretch to close out a likely win.
Fourth quarter, 3:10, Bulls 87-79: The Celtics did not do anything egregious on defense in this quarter. They held the Bulls to less than 50 percent shooting, and the shots the Bulls did hit were far from ideal looks. Nobody was bigger than Deng, who was working on 10 fourth-quarter points.
This is a Chicago team that did not show signs of being intimidated without its MVP leader until two games ago. It looks like that confident bunch is back.
Fourth quarter, 5:57, Bulls 81-77: Bulls sharpshooter Kyle Korver has been one of the players who has suffered most during Rose's absence. Without Rose drawing the defense and finding Korver for spot-ups, the Creighton product's looks have not been as open or as plentiful.
When Korver gets an open look he can still drill it, however. He showed that by draining a 3 to stretch Chicago's lead to six points.
Bradley has been entirely taken out of this game by some tight officiating. His fifth foul was of the phantom variety as he chased Watson out near halfcourt.
Fourth quarter, 8:06, Bulls 78-76: Now we know why the Bulls shot so atrociously in the first half. They were saving their makes for the second half.
The Bulls nailed four of their first seven shots of the final period, getting four points each from Deng and Gibson, while continuing to outwork the Celtics on the boards.
Allen appeared to feel confident by taking two 3's, making one. The Celtics look like they will need him to find his stroke to avoid their second straight loss.
End of third quarter, Bulls 67-66: Not entirely sure what happened on the final play. The Celtics inbounded with three seconds left and Rondo had trouble finding his footing as well as a handle on the ball.
It was a fitting end to a quarter in which the Celtics could not seem to get a grip. The Bulls forced five turnovers and scored seven fastbreak points, in addition to outrebounding the Celtics 14-9 and taking a commanding 8-2 advantage on points in the paint.
Pierce got up to 21 points to lead all scorers, but the Bulls' 29-17 third quarter made Pierce's scoring numbers a secondary issue.
Third quarter, 1:22, game tied 63-63: This has to qualify as Bradley's worst game since he became a major rotation player. Bradley was sent to the bench with his fourth foul in less than 20 minutes, and the Celtics had trouble slowing down Watson.
Watson hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 58-58 and hit another one moments later to break the tie. Pierce and Allen were able to hit clutch shots to keep pace, but the momentum clearly favored the Bulls, who held a 25-14 scoring advantage in the third quarter. Hamilton scored seven of those 25 Chicago points.
Third quarter, 7:15, Celtics 56-51: Bass stretched and stayed on the floor. That's a good sign for a team that cannot afford to lose any more frontcourt players.
Third quarter, 7:15, Celtics 56-51: The Bulls came out much hotter to open the second half, hitting five of their first eight shots. The Celtics knocked down just enough looks to stay ahead, but there was cause for concern when Bass tumbled to the floor and stayed there while the Bulls raced off with a five-on-four advantage on the other end.
Bass appeared to be favoring either his left knee or one of his calves. But that's not even close to a medical diagnosis, of course.
Halftime, Celtics 49-38: The Celtics commanded the second quarter, outscoring the Bulls 27-20.
It was more than the scoring advantage, though. The Celtics held the Bulls to 6-for-16 shooting in the quarter while hitting 10 of their 21 shots, which was a vast improvement over their brick-laying first quarter.
The Good: Brandon Bass was the high man for the Celtics with seven of his nine points in the quarter, but Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo were all over the place. Pierce entered halftime with a game-high 17 points and Rondo had eight points and seven assists. … Joakim Noah scored a team-high 11 points and also added six rebounds with two blocked shots.
The Bad: C.J. Watson is no Derrick Rose, that's for certain. Despite giving the Bulls some nice point guard play in place of Rose lately, Watson commited three turnovers and missed four of his seven shots.
The So-so: Kevin Garnett did not have a great shooting half, but with seven rebounds and three assists the Celtics will more than take Garnett's 2-for-7 shooting mark.
Second quarter, 2:06, Celtics 41-34: The Bulls used a 7-3 run to close within 33-31, but Bass and Pierce responded to widen the Celtics' lead.
Hollins gave the Celtics seven-plus solid minutes off the bench. He hit the only shot he took and blocked a shot.
Second quarter, 6:49, Celtics 30-24: You know Bradley is becoming a pest because he is starting to catch a lot more "inadvertant" elbows and knees in recent games. Bulls backup center Omer Asik caught Bradley with a knee as Bradley tried to navigate a screen by Asik. Bradley went down, but the official saw it, whistling Asik for the foul.
Second quarter, 8:43, Celtics 26-22: Stiemsma needed less than six minutes to pick up his third personal foul. The Celtics were required to sub in Ryan Hollins early to give Garnett his usual rest and to keep Stiemsma from fouling himself out by halftime.
The shooting did not get any better in the second quarter. The teams opened the second frame a combined 3-for-10 from the floor and the Celtics had nine fouls. Yikes.
Believe it or not, all those fouls weren't on Stiemsma.
End of first quarter, Celtics 22-18: These are known to be two excellent defensive teams, so points were expected to be at a premium. But the first quarter was a little crazy.
The Celtics shot 9-for-23 while the Bulls were 6-for-19 from the field. The Bulls went 0-for-5 on 3-pointers and committed five turnovers.
Paul Pierce was probably the only player on either team not affected by a shooting bug. Pierce scored 12 points in the first quarter by hitting half of his 10 shots.
The Bulls, as predicted, controlled the glass 14-9. Boozer hauled in a game-high seven rebounds.
First quarter, 2:35, Celtics 15-12: Stiemsma can't get a break. Seven seconds into his playing time, he picked up his first personal foul.
Give him credit for consistency. In a bit of an upset, he did not commit a single foul Wednesday, but that was in only eight minutes of action. He fouled out of his two previous games, and picked up five personals in the game before that against the Jazz.
First quarter, 4:00, Celtics 13-10: A fast-paced first eight minutes did not net many points, as the teams combined to shoot 11-for-29 from the field.
Brandon Bass hit his first jump shot but then missed two straight. Bass could be a huge part of the Celtics offense in this game matched up with Carlos Boozer. Boozer is a former All-Star and a regular 20-10 threat, but he is not known for his defense.
Ray Allen entered the game on the latest dead ball, replacing Bradley. Greg Stiemsma subbed for Garnett.
9:39 p.m.: Chicago presents a huge challenge for the Celtics. Not only do the Bulls allow the second-lowest points per game in the league, they are also the top rebounding team.
That's a tough combination for the Celtics, who are fourth from the bottom in points per game and dead last in rebounds per game.
9:33 p.m.: Late-breaking lineup news: Avery Bradley, not Allen, will start alongside Rondo in the backcourt.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers apparently did not mention this in his pregame media availability. Both Allen and Bradley are likely to receive big minutes again, however, as they did Wednesday against the Spurs.
9:05 p.m.: Rose is inactive, the Bulls announced via their Twitter feed.
The Bulls, who have lost two straight, could use him back in the lineup. Even without Rose, the Bulls will still be a formidable defensive opponent for the Celtics. Any team coached by former Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau will at the very least defend.
D-Rose is listed as inactive tonight for #BOSvsCHI
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) April 6, 2012
8:34 p.m.: Derrick Rose will be a game-time decision with a strained groin that has held him out of the last 11 games. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau notoriously plays it close to the vest with injuries updates, so it is likely we won't know whether Rose will play until moments before tip-off.
Rose said he "definitely" would play on Thursday, as long as his groin felt good. That is a considerable hedge, of course, so for now expect C.J. Watson to start. That way you can be pleasantly surprised if you get a chance to watch Rose play, but won't be disapointed if you don't.
Rip Hamilton is expected to play his second straight game after returning Monday after missing 14 games with an injury to his shooting shoulder. Considering all the injuries the Bulls have dealt with this season, it is even more impressive that the Bulls have put together the league's best record.
Here are the probable starting lineups, subject to change.
8 a.m. ET: The Chicago Bulls have survived not having Derrick Rose since mid-March, but the loss of their MVP point guard may be starting to catch up with them.
The Bulls dropped their second game in a row when they lost to the Rockets on Monday. That was only noteworthy because it was the first time all season Chicago had lost consecutive games. The Celtics, meanwhile, saw their recent run of success end Wednesday when the Spurs snapped their five-game win streak.
The Celtics unveiled a new wrinkle on Wednesday that could become a major part of their game plan for the rest of the season.
The three-guard lineup of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Avery Bradley worked wonders for the Celtics (30-23), even if it did not earn them a win against the Spurs. They could give small ball another try on Thursday when they take on the Bulls (42-13).
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 9:30 p.m. ET.
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