During a short span in the final quarter, the Chicago Bulls lost the game, their cool, and maybe the first-round playoff series with the Celtics.
Technically, the Bulls lost their composure first in a 108-97 defeat. But as things fell apart during a 13-0 Celtic run, even a composed Bulls team might not have been able to recover.
The Bulls had pulled within 91-89 as Isaiah Canaan converted on an Avery Bradley goaltend off a steal with 6:26 remaining. And then the Bulls started to unravel, failing to score on two key possessions as the Celtics went on a 10-point run in 94 seconds, the frustrations manifested in technical fouls on Robin Lopez and Dwyane Wade.
Lopez was T’d up by Ed Malloy after an Isaiah Thomas drive, Thomas sinking three foul shots for a 101-89 Celtics lead with 4:52 remaining. But Lopez said the call was more a misunderstanding than a sign of him being upset.
“I was being very supportive of Mr. Malloy, and I think it got misconstrued,” Lopez said. “I was applauding him and he took it the wrong way, unfortunately.”
“It was a lot of little things,” said Lopez, when asked about the Bulls’ late collapse. “I can’t point to one thing, it was a lot of little things that added up. I think it was a lot of details that came to really hurt us.”
The Bulls adjusted to Thomas with Jimmy Butler and Canaan often overplaying him to his right. The gamble paid off for most of the game, but Thomas eventually adjusted. And when the Bulls failed to double him, Thomas went into the lane for a 96-89 lead with 5:39 left. Then, Canaan air-balled a 3-point attempt and was flattened by a Kelly Olynyk pick, Thomas drew a foul and a Wade picked up a technical.
Canaan had been thrown into the deep end, having been inactive in the opening three games, and making his first start of the season in Game 4. Canaan became the Bulls’ best option for defending Thomas, after Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant struggled. Canaan had 13 points and 3 assists in 34 minutes, but had difficulties down the stretch as Thomas went for 33 points.
Still, the Bulls were able to capitalize on Canaan’s quickness in limiting Thomas for most of Game 5, Thomas breaking away for 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter.
“I’ll say this, I love the way our guys competed,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “To come on the road to play really, really good basketball for the majority of the first three quarters. Came out, started the fourth, we got off to a good start. Obviously, they took over the last 10 minutes, but I love the way our guys competed. They held serve, we have to do the same Friday.
“First half we talked about taking care of the basketball, rebounding. Third quarter, I thought we took care of the basketball, got good shots up on the board. Then, in the fourth, we had six turnovers. You can’t have that – that’s too many in the fourth quarter.
“Fourth quarter, they got in the paint. I thought [Al] Horford was excellent in that fourth quarter. Those are the times you’ve got to fight through. Isaiah still got it done, making plays in the paint, like he always does.”