Bulls face Cavaliers, continue fight for play-in spot

NBA

The Chicago Bulls know every win is precious at this point in the season as they try to stay in the playoff race.

The Bulls secured one of their most crucial recent victories Monday night when they beat the Boston Celtics 102-96 on the road behind Nikola Vucevic’s 29 points and nine rebounds.

Chicago (24-33) is tied with Washington for the Eastern Conference’s 10th seed — the final spot to qualify for the play-in tournament for the final two playoff berths — as the Bulls head into Wednesday night’s game at Cleveland (20-37). The Bulls also are half a game ahead of the Toronto Raptors.

The Cavaliers have split their two games against the Bulls this season, losing their most recent clash last Saturday in Chicago, 106-96. Vucevic led the Bulls with 25 points, while Collin Sexton and Darius Garland had 22 apiece to pace Cleveland.

“We’re in a fight for our lives,” Chicago guard Garrett Temple said. “Every detail, every play matters. Guys are playing really hard, and I like that.”

The Bulls prevailed against Boston thanks to a solid defensive effort in which they held their opponent to under 100 points for the second consecutive game, both wins.

Chicago halted a six-game winning streak for Boston despite Bulls All-Star Zach LaVine missing his third consecutive game due to health and safety protocols.

Coby White hit a pair of free throws late to help seal the win and finished with 19 points and seven assists.

“We shot the ball really poorly in the first half, but our defense kept us in it,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “Once the ball started going in the basket, it was nice to see us maintain that defensive intensity, really the entire game.”

The Cavaliers’ slim hopes of sneaking into the playoffs took another hit with Monday’s 109-105 loss to the Detroit Pistons. Cleveland is four games behind the Bulls for that final play-in spot and has lost five of its past six.

Sexton scored 28 points and Garland 23, but the Cavaliers let the game slip away in the final minute as Saddiq Bey’s 20 points helped Detroit, which started three rookies and a second-year player.

The Cavaliers will be at home Wednesday before a three-game trip against playoff contenders Charlotte, Washington and Toronto.

“It’s a conversation about approach and a maturity level that we’ve yet to reach,” Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “The thought that we wouldn’t come out tonight and play spirited basketball is disappointing.”

While the Bulls have upped their defensive effort, the Cavaliers have been less consistent on that end of the floor lately, allowing 110.7 points per game over their past 10 games. The Pistons made 10 3-pointers in the first half Monday night before Cleveland held them without a made triple over the final two quarters.

“It was the first quarter that did us in,” Bickerstaff said. “To me, all that other stuff that happened afterwards is irrelevant.”

Cleveland forward Larry Nance Jr. did not play against the Pistons for personal reasons while teammates Dylan Windler and Damyean Dotson remained out with knee injuries.

–Field Level Media

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