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Boston Celtics secure 110-101 win over Chicago Bulls

By Mike Shalin, The Sports Xchange

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics left TD Garden after Friday night's game not entirely sure how or when they were going to get to snowbound Philadelphia for this weekend's game that was postponed from Saturday to Sunday night.

They also left their home building knowing they had played a strong game -- and even figured out a way to win a close one.

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A team that has been struggling to win close games blew almost all of a 16-point, third-quarter lead and held off the Chicago Bulls 110-101.

"We played overall a really good game against a really good Chicago Bulls team," Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said after his two tough drives helped extinguish the Bulls' comeback. "Hopefully, we can build on that and get some momentum and get some more wins."

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These words have been heard before. But this team also has continued to lose at crunch time. The Celtics are 4-9 in games decided by five points or less and this one got scary, with Chicago closing within a point with 4:58 left.

The Bulls, losers of six of their last eight, rode swingman Jimmy Butler, guard Derrick Rose and center Pau Gasol through a comeback -- almost all the way back.

But Thomas, being pushed by his team for a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team, scored on two drives around a layup by forward Jared Sullinger as Chicago (24-18) went silent at the other end. Boston guard Avery Bradley completed an 8-0 run to lift the lead back to nine with 1:57 left.

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"I'd be shocked if he wasn't on the All-Star team ... 'cause the guy's averaging 20 (points) and seven (assists) and he's 5-2. Why not put someone like that in the All-Star Game?" Sullinger said of Thomas.

Thomas, who finished with 22 points and five assists, fed Sullinger for the clincher as the Celtics ended a two-game losing streak (one in overtime) and improved to 23-21.

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Bradley scored 21 points and Sullinger had 18 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and three steals. Forward Kelly Olynyk finished with 12 points and nine boards.

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Center Tyler Zeller, getting more playing time with forward Amir Johnson absent for personal reasons, gave the Celtics seven points, including five in the fourth quarter, and four rebounds in 15:34. Guard Evan Turner added 10 points, five rebounds and five assists off the bench.

In a game of runs, the Celtics never actually trailed -- and the score was tied only once at 2-2.

The Celtics had 26 assists, 14 steals, only 12 turnovers and went 8 of 23 from 3-point range in a strong all-around game. They did surrender 25 second-chance points, but that turned out to not matter as they beat the Bulls for the second time in three meetings this season.

Butler led the Bulls with 28 points and 14 rebounds. Rose, starting to look a bit more like the Derrick Rose of old, scored 16 of his 27 points in the third quarter and had seven rebounds.

Gasol added 18 points and 11 rebounds, one game after going 0 of 8 from the floor and scoring one point. He was also guilty of five of Chicago's 20 turnovers.

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"We cut that thing to one (and) we had two key turnovers," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "Biggest thing for us, you come out and get off to a good start and you're not in that position. It's a different outcome."

Rose said, "This is the first time I've been on a team like this where we're going through this problem. I'm trying to take everything in, but at the same time digest it, look at it from afar. There are so many angles, but we have to figure out a way."

NOTES: F Amir Johnson was out of the Boston lineup for personal reasons, and the hope is he will rejoin the team in Philadelphia over the weekend. ... Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he was "surprised" by the firing of David Blatt by the Cleveland Cavaliers, saying, "I would think he's not going to be unemployed long. He's a heck of a coach." Said Chicago rookie coach Fred Hoiberg: "Last year at Iowa State he welcomed me to his training camp and went there, sat in his office, talked to me, gave me film on a bunch of stuff. Just a really good person. I think (he is) a hell of a basketball coach. It's a tough day. He was great to me when I got into this league. It's tough news." ... The Bulls are in Cleveland for the head coaching debut of Tyronn Lue on Saturday night.

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