Jae Crowder

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Celtics fluster Bulls with floor spacing and dirty play, take 3-2 series lead

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The Bulls couldn’t break free. The Celtics look ready to break out.

Boston beat Chicago 108-97 in Game 5 Wednesday, winning its third straight to take a 3-2 lead in the first-round series. The Celtics pulled away with a 13-0 fourth-quarter run, which was boosted by two Bulls technical fouls – the second on Robin Lopez, who was rightfully aggrieved by an uncalled Jae Crowder leg-lock.

That’ll generate more talk about Boston being dirty, especially in the midst of a chippy series. But at least nobody will be discussing the Celtics being a historically weak No. 1 seed, which drowned everything after Chicago won the series’ first two games in Boston. The Warriors and Cavaliers are the only other teams to win three straight games this postseason, the type of elite company the Celtics would like to join.

Close the series in Game 6 on Friday, and Boston silences the most extreme criticism of its present.

“We’ve got to finish it,” said Isaiah Thomas, who scored 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter. “We know Game 6 is going to be a big game, and they’re going to fight for their lives. But we’ve got to go in there and finish it.”

The Celtics became just the third team in the last four years to win three straight after dropping the first two games of a series. The Trail Blazers (vs. Clippers) and Hornets (vs. Heat) did it in last year’s first round. Portland advanced. Charlotte didn’t.

Overall, here’s how teams up 3-2 and facing a road Game 6 in a 2-2-1-1-1 series have fared:

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The Celtics’ odds of advancing might be even higher than that. Their 11-point win tonight felt like it could have been much more lopsided.

Boston shot just 9-for-40 on 3-pointers (23%), but many of those were good looks and the high volume of attempts bodes well. They were a product of a high-functioning offense, and in the long run, more of those will fall. Only a few franchises – Warriors, Cavaliers, Hawks, Mavericks, Pacers – have ever attempted so many 3s in a playoff game, though nobody had ever shot so inefficiently on so many attempts.

The Celtics more than compensated for their cold outside shooting everywhere else. They shot 29-for-48 on 2-pointers (60%) and and 23-for-23 on free throws (100%), getting high-percentage looks and drawing fouls thanks to their floor spacing.

The Bulls, on the other hand, wasted a throwback game from Dwyane Wade (26 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists). Avery Bradley (24 points on 11-of-19 shooting) tightly defended Jimmy Butler (14 points on 6-of-15 shooting), and that matchup won’t get any easier for Butler.

Maybe Butler will answer the call, but Chicago is running out of advantages. Boston even had higher offensive- and defensive-rebounding percentages than Chicago. And Thomas didn’t carry anything, even the Celtics to victory.

Boston again looks like the complete team it had been for much of the season.

NBA fines Chicago’s Rajon Rondo $25,000 for attempting to trip Jae Crowder (VIDEO)

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Rajon Rondo‘s end-of-season performance may have helped him earn a little extra coin this offseason. He’s certainly going to need it given that the NBA has fined the Chicago Bulls PG $25,000 after he attempted to trip Boston Celtics wing Jae Crowder.

The league released the decision in a statement on Sunday morning.

The incident occured with 31 seconds left in the first quarter of Game 3, a game the Celtics won, 104-87. Rondo was on the bench, and as possession changed Crowder took a wide sweeping angle along the sideline, right in front of Rondo.

Rondo casually stuck his leg out as Crowder passed by, but didn’t seem to make any contact.

Chicago leads the series, 2-1.

Inspired Celtics down Rajon Rondo-less Bulls

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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Rajon Rondo knew, as the Bulls season threatened to unravel, a veteran like Kevin Garnett would have effectively handled the adversity. Rondo never apologized for pointing that out on Instagram. He has little patience for feelings when it comes to conveying the truth as he sees it.

And Rondo was right. The retired Garnett would know just what to say amid crisis.

Unfortunately for Rondo, Garnett delivered his message to their former team.

Sparked by a pregame message from Garnett and Isaiah Thomas‘ return from his sister’s funeral, the Celtics beat Chicago 104-87 in Game 3 Friday. After being stunned twice at home to begin the first-round series, No. 1 seed Boston faces a much more manageable 2-1 deficit.

“Isaiah played a clip from KG before the game, and it kind of got us going a little bit,” Celtics guard Avery Bradley said. “KG said some inspirational words for us, and he reminded us, Celtics, we’re always supposed to be the hardest-playing team every single night. And we’re supposed to use Isaiah’s family, use that as inspiration and come out and play hard for him and his family.

He said, You can either play two ways. You can either make excuses and say it’s emotional. ‘Oh, let’s give up this year and worry about next year.’ Or you can fight and fight for his family, and that’s what we did.”

Meanwhile, Rondo sat and watched in a garish red short-sleeved suit, sidelined with a broken thumb.

Chicago sure missed him.

The Bulls lost their offensive flow, and Jimmy Butler (14 points on 7-of-21 shooting) and Dwyane Wade (18 points on 6-of-18 shooting) settled for tough shots. Credit Boston’s perimeter defenders, especially Avery Bradley, but they don’t fully explain how out of sync Chicago looked.

Point guards Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams combined to score eight points on 3-of-10 shooting with three assists and seven turnovers in 39 minutes. Grant, who started, especially looked in over his head.

Without Rondo’s throwback defense disrupting at the point of attack, Brad Steven’s offense hummed.

The Bulls again dominated the glass, but the Celtics cede rebounds to play highly skilled offensive players rather than a bunch of brutes. That trade-off finally worked in Boston’s favor tonight.

Thomas (16 points and nine assists) and Al Horford (18 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals) clicked in the pick-and-roll, and Bradley (15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists), Jae Crowder (16 points, six rebounds and three assists), Terry Rozier (11 points on 4-of-6 shooting) and Marcus Smart (seven points, six rebounds and five assists) all had their moments.

Chicago had few. The Bulls shot 39% from the field, including 29% on 3-pointers. Their offensive rebounding helped, but that’s too many initial misses.

The Celtics assisted more shots (34, a 2017 postseason high for any team) than Chicago made (33).

The Bulls can win ugly games, but Boston kept this one too pretty.

Chicago’s answer could be to muck it up further and remove point guards entirely, at least more so. In 11 minutes with Wade and and Butler in the backcourt without a traditional point guard, the Bulls outscored the Celtics by two.

Unfortunately for Chicago, its best answer is stuck on the bench with a broken thumb while his revered former teammate motivates the other team.

Did injured Rajon Rondo try tripping Jae Crowder from bench?

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo is sidelined for Game 3 against the Celtics.

But he can still make his presence felt.

Kenny Ducey of Sports Illustrated:

Rondo has a history of apparently trying to trip opponents while sitting on the bench.

But look how slowly he lifts his leg and how long after Jae Crowder had already run the other way. This looks like Rondo just having fun, maybe even poking at his reputation.

Still, I don’t know his intent.

Paul Millsap, Tim Hardaway Jr. boost Hawks past Celtics

Associated Press
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ATLANTA (AP) —  Paul Millsap scored 26 points, Tim Hardaway Jr. added 23 and the Atlanta Hawks snapped a two-game skid with a 123-116 victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night.

Isaiah Thomas scored 35 points, Jae Crowder had 24 and Marcus Smart 18 for the Celtics. They have dropped two in a row after winning five of seven.

Rookie Taurean Prince finished with a career-high 20 points, and Dennis Schroder added 18 for Atlanta. The Hawks had lost nine of 11.

Schroder hit a straightaway 3 to make it 116-107 with 2:07 remaining before Thomas’ corner 3 with 55.3 seconds to go cut the lead to five. The Celtics didn’t get any closer the rest of the way.

Boston fell 1 1/2 games behind Cleveland for the East lead, but is still two games ahead of third-place Toronto. Fifth-place Atlanta, which led by 20 in the third, moved one game ahead of Milwaukee. The regular season ends next week.

One night after losing by 23 at home to the defending champion Cavaliers, Boston allowed 71 points in the first half and trailed by 16 at halftime.

The Celtics were sluggish defensively and looked tired during much of the night on Atlanta’s end, getting outrebounded 52-38 and getting called for too many fouls underneath.

The Hawks used a 12-0 run to take a 14-point lead in the final minute of the first. After Boston pulled within one early in the second, Atlanta pushed the lead to 16 on putback jams by Prince and Millsap in the closing seconds of the second.

Boston cut the lead to 10 on Smart’s 3 at the third-quarter buzzer.

The Hawks improved to 32-7 overall, 17-2 at home, when entering the fourth with a lead.

ON THE MEND, ON THE FLOOR

Millsap didn’t start for the second straight game as Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer works him back from a sore left knee. The four-time All-Star won’t play Friday at Cleveland, missing his ninth game in the last 11.

NOT WELCOME HOME

Al Horford, in his second game back in Atlanta after spending his first nine seasons with the Hawks, was whistled five times by the middle of the third and went to bench with just two points, two rebounds and three assists. He finished with four points on 1-for-7 shooting. Horford was a classy citizen and tireless worker on the court, but fans, still upset that he left as a free agent, again booed him every time he touched the ball.

STREAK SNAPPED

Dwight Howard‘s streak of double-doubles ended at 10 games, his longest since last season with Houston and the longest Hawks streak since Kevin Willis had 21 straight in 1991-92.