Celtics hang on to pin first loss on Bulls

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[November 03, 2016]  BOSTON -- The Celtics were missing two starters, and they blew a 16-point fourth-quarter lead at TD Garden on Wednesday night.

However, Boston turned up the defense, shut Chicago out for the final 1:57 and escaped with a 107-100 victory over the previously undefeated Bulls.

"We got a lot of good players that can step in at any time," Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said after Boston earned its third win in the first four games of the season. "I think that's our strength, our depth, and we're just going to keep going."

The Celtics came in without Al Horford, sidelined due to a concussion, and they lost Jae Crowder to a sprained ankle in the second quarter. Throw in Kelly Olynyk still out following shoulder surgery, and the roster was shortened.

And while the Bulls were also missing Michael Carter-Williams and Doug McDermott, Chicago came back. All the way back to tie it at 100 with 1:57 to go -- but the Bulls (3-1) didn't score again.

"That was a good win," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who called his team's injuries, "a great opportunity for everybody else."

The Bulls used a late 6-0 run to tie it. One free throw by Amir Johnson and -- after Chicago's Nikola Mirotic missed two free throws with 1:36 left -- a circus drive by Thomas gave Boston a three-point lead.

After former Celtics guard Rajon Rondo shot as airball on one end for the Bulls, Boston used an Avery Bradley offensive rebound and a runner by Marcus Smart (playing his first game after missing three with a sprained ankle) to put the game away.

Johnson, a veteran who makes his living near the basket, hit his first four 3-pointers of the season in a 16-point third quarter that seemingly put Boston in control. He finished with 23 points and six rebounds.

"I was going crazy," Smart said of watching Johnson go off. "Whatever he ate or drank last night, whatever he did, I want some of it."

Johnson was 0-for-1 from 3-point range in the first three games of the season and had made 58 treys in his 12-year career before Wednesday.

Thomas finished with 23 points and 10 assists. Bradley had 13 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Tyler Zeller, starting for Horford, scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to give Boston its 16-point lead with 10:42 left. He had 11 points, and the Celtics went small when he was off the floor.

Jimmy Butler, who led the Chicago charge, finished with 23 points and nine rebounds. Mirotic added 17 points and Dwyane Wade 15.

"There's not too many tougher places to play than here on the road," Wade said. "I like the way we responded. I've been here before when they came out and played the same way and we lost -- by a lot."

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Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) drives to the basket during the first quarter against the Chicago Bulls at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Rondo, playing his fifth game against his former team, added 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists but four of his team's 19 turnovers.

"I thought we fought obviously to get back into the game in the fourth quarter, but I thought overall -- especially for the first three quarters -- they were the more physical team," Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg said.

Crowder went to the floor just as Thomas was hitting 3-pointer to put Boston ahead 50-43. Crowder remained down in pain as play went down to the other end.

After the whistle, Crowder got up and hopped on his right foot all the way into the corner and down the tunnel heading toward the locker room. He was finished after amassing 10 points and five rebounds in 13 minutes.

"Jae sprained his ankle. That's all I know," Stevens said.

The Celtics, who visit Cleveland on Thursday, were 14 of 32 from 3-point range and committed just 12 turnovers.

"We got a big one tomorrow, and hopefully we can sneak one out in Cleveland," Thomas said.

NOTES: Celtics G Avery Bradley, doubtful because of a lingering right shoulder problem, played after receiving a cortisone shot. ... The Bulls were missing G Michael Carter-Williams, expected to be out four to six weeks with a left knee bone bruise after it was feared he might be lost for his season when he got hurt Monday. ... Bulls F Doug McDermott, who sustained a concussion Monday, didn't play Wednesday. ... The Celtics were to fly out after the game for Cleveland, where they were set to stay in the same hotel as the Chicago Cubs before playing the Cavaliers on Thursday night. The Bulls host the New York Knicks on Friday night. ... Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg before the game: "For the five people who will be watching our game ..."

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