Facing the possibility of a 3-0 series deficit, the Boston Celtics finally found their groove.
Al Horford led a balanced attack with 18 points, Isaiah Thomas added 16, and the Celtics cruised to a 104-87 win over the Chicago Bulls in Chicago to pull to 2-1 in their first-round playoff series.
Playing the pass-happy brand of basketball that earned them the top seed in the East, Boston built a 10-point lead by the end of the third quarter.
Boston pulled away in the fourth, building a 17-point lead keyed by an Avery Bradley three-pointer and back-to-back buckets by Jonas Jerebko. Five points by Terry Rozier pushed the lead to 20.
Dwyane Wade led the Bulls with 18 points. Jimmy Butler missed 5 of his first 6 shots and finished the game with 14.
It was a much-needed win for the Celtics, who stumbled in the first two games. Thomas, the Celtics’ top offensive threat, has been grappling with the loss of his sister Chyna, who died last Saturday in a single-car accident.
At points, victory did not seem certain for the Celtics.
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Boston started hot, shooting 7-10 from three-point range in the first quarter. Back-to-back three-pointers by Jae Crowder keyed a 19-point run, and the Celtics held an 18-point lead at the end of the first.
But Chicago opened the second quarter on a 13-2 run, sparked by 6 points from Wade and three-pointer by Paul Zipser.
Meanwhile, the Bulls locked down on defense, allowing just 11 points in the quarter on five-of-22 shooting from the field. Chicago cut the Boston lead to 3 at the end of the first half.
But the comeback didn’t last long.
Boston went on an 8-2 run to start the second half, highlighted by and alley-oop dunk by Horford and back-to-back three-pointers by Thomas.
Thomas began breaking through Chicago’s stifling defense, penetrating into the paint and finding Horford for three easy buckets. A three-pointer by Marcus Smart and layup by Kelly Olynyk pushed the lead to 13 at the end of the third.
Jerian Grant started at point guard for the Bulls in place of Rajon Rondo, who suffered a right thumb fracture in Game 2.
That the Celtics performed well in Chacago was not a major surprise. Boston played well on the road in the regular season, finishing with a 23-18 record away from the TD Garden.