The Chicago Bulls traveled to TD Garden to face the Boston Celtics on Friday night, and they didn't disappoint. It was a marquee matchup on ESPN featuring physical, gritty play, and it was only fitting that they needed overtime to decide it.
Ultimately, the Bulls came away with a thrilling, hard-fought victory, 100-99.
Carlos Boozer powered the Bulls with yet another huge double-double (19 points and 20 rebounds), and Rip Hamilton led the team in scoring with 20. Rajon Rondo was the star of the night with 30 points, but he also fouled out late in OT.
Some players who had struggled turned into potential heroes with late buckets. Kirk Hinrich tied it at the end of regulation. Jason Terry gave the Celtics the lead with only 12 seconds left in overtime. And Marco Belinelli snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a game-winning circus shot.
It was a huge victory for Chicago, especially considering they lost Luol Deng in the third quarter to a strained hamstring. Overall, the Bulls committed way, way too many turnovers (21), especially in the early going (eight in the first nine minutes), but they still led for almost the entire game.
Surprisingly, Boston excelled at scoring in the paint and on the fast break, but they were outshot by the Bulls 48.0 percent to 41.8, which made all the difference. Rebounding and free throws were about even, and that's why this game was so close.
Still, after Kevin Garnett woke up from his slumber in the fourth quarter, and behind Rajon Rondo's stellar play, Boston finally tied the game at 74 with seven minutes remaining in the fourth, and it was a slugfest from there until the final buzzer.
Chicago came into the game in fourth place in the East with a 22-15 record. They are just 11-10 at home, but have an 11-5 record on the road, the best in the conference. In fact, over the last two seasons, the Bulls are 35-14 on the road, the best mark in the NBA (per Elias, via ESPN Stats & Info on Twitter).
Their offense has declined from last season due to the absence of Derrick Rose (knee surgery), but their defense has remained stout. They allow 91.7 points per game, with only the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies allowing fewer points.
Also, Rose is getting closer to returning with each passing day, and he could make Chicago the favorites in the East (that's right, I said it).
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau used to be an assistant with the Celtics under current coach Doc Rivers, and Rivers credits his former colleague with Chicago's current success, despite playing without their former MVP point guard (per Marc D'Amico of Celtics.com).
It's obvious that Rivers has tremendous respect for Thibodeau, but his C's are no slouches. After taking the Miami Heat to a Game 7 in last year's conference finals, Boston stumbled to begin this season. They were just 14-17 on January 3.
But they rattled off six straight victories after that, before falling to the New Orleans Hornets on January 16. They find themselves tied for seventh place in the East and have battled back into the playoff picture.
Now, let's put on our school teacher's cardigan and give our grades for each player.