Gerald Green grabs a rebound against the Chicago Bulls during the first half in game four of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at United Center. (Mike DiNovo/USA Today Sports)
As has been the case all season, when it mattered most Sunday, Isaiah Thomas was savior for the Celtics.
With the United Center crowd roaring after the hometown Bulls came all the way back from a 20-point hole to take their only lead, the Celtics’ NBA MVP candidate took over the game in a way only he can.
Thomas scored a game-high 33 points with seven assists to lead the Celtics to a 104-95 win over the Bulls in Game 4 Sunday night in Chicago to pull Boston in a 2-2 tie as the series heads back to TD Garden for Game 5 Wednesday night. Game 6 will be next Friday back in Chicago.
The visiting team has won all four games in the series while the Celtics have taken full advantage of the Bulls without Rajon Rondo (fractured right thumb).
Gerald Green showed exactly why Brad Stevens put him in the starting lineup.
For the second straight game, the Celtics came out on fire. While not quite as blazing hot from beyond the arc, the Celtics still drained four triples in the opening 12 minutes as they raced out to a 30-18 lead. And for the second straight game, the Bulls looked utterly lost without Rajon Rondo, who appealed his $25,000 fine for attempting to trip Jae Crowder in the first half of Game 3 Friday night.
The key to the first quarter was the energy Green was able to provide, getting his second straight start. He was flying all over the court, driving to the basket while hitting a 3-of-5 shots. Green finished the first half with 16 points, already a playoff career high. He finished the game with 18 points and seven rebounds.
Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 10 first-quarter points as visitors claimed a 30-18 lead after 1. The quarter ended on a horrific missed goaltending call when Terry Rozier went up for a layup in the closing seconds. Bobby Portis blocked the ball after it had hit the glass. Brad Stevens spend the closing moments of the quarter screaming as he approached the midcourt line. The Celtics coach managed to avoid a technical foul.
(For a full statistical recap and box, click here).
The Celtics opened the second quarter with mainly reserves and managed to build a pair of 20-point leads. With the Celtics up 41-21 following Green’s third 3-pointer, there appeared to be a bit of a turning point. Marcus Smart came down with a defensive rebound only to be stripped from behind by Isaiah Canaan, who converted a lay-up. Jimmy Butler trailed on the play and a frustrated Marcus Smart turned and lightly shoved Butler in the chest.
A double-technical was called and the Bulls seemed a bit more energized. The Celtics built the lead to 20 again at 45-25 before going on a 15-6 spurt. Like Game 3, the Bulls closed the first half with some momentum but Jae Crowder’s three with 55 seconds left put the lead back to 55-42.
Another key to the Celtics building a 20-point advantage was the play of the Kelly Olynyk. With Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Al Horford on the bench, it was Olynyk who provided tight defense on Dwyane Wade and drilled a wide open three on the other end as the Celtics maintained a comfortable lead.
Avery Bradley picked up his third foul with just under six minutes left in the second quarter when it appeared Butler enhanced a swim move by Bradley in the Bulls front court.
Looking for a spark and clearly dissatisfied with Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams in their attempt to fill in for the injured Rajon Rondo, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg turned to Canaan to start the third quarter with Wade, Butler, Robin Lopez and Nikola Mirotic.
Robin Lopez rediscovered his offensive rebounding prowess in the opening two minutes that was his calling card in the first two games in Boston. Lopez put-back with 9:30 left cut the Celtics’ lead to six, 59-53. But on the next possession, Gerald Green followed his own miss with a thunderous dunk that was followed by fist-pumping from the Celtics bench. The Celtics got a stop and then Crowder drove to the basket for bucket to build the lead back to 10, 63-53.
The Bulls capped their 40-18 run to take their first lead on a Robin Lopez layup. Then Isaiah Thomas took over when the Celtics needed him the most.
But Thomas came right back with drives to the basket on the next two possessions to reclaim the lead at 67-65. After a Mirotic missed three, Thomas found a wide-open Horford under the basket for a dunk. Thomas had two more free throws and another layup as the Celtics used a 12-0 run to take a 75-65 lead. The spurt was capped by a Marcus Smart block of Jimmy Butler that lead to a Thomas layup on the other end. Smart yelled “get that [expletive] outta here” immediately after the rejection.
The Celtics finished the third quarter on a 16-5 run to take a 79-70 lead into the final quarter.
Smart made another remarkable play when he denied Butler on an alley-oop pass from Wade with five minutes left. Avery Bradley capped it off on the other end with a layup that put the Celtics ahead, 94-83, with 4:54 left in the fourth.
Smart’s three from the left baseline with 3:28 left put Boston up, 97-86. The Bulls never really threatened in the final four minutes as they jacked up ill-advised threes and came up short on layups around the basket.