End of game, Bulls win 88-79: If not for an early fourth-quarter rally by the Celtics that closed the gap to one point, this one might have been even more lopsided against the Bulls.
After a relatively quiet first half, the Celtics turned it on and stormed back against the top team in the East. Unfortunately for the Celtics, Derrick Rose also came on in the second half.
Rose, who scored eight points before halftime, finished with 25 points and seven assists as the Bulls dominated when it mattered. Luol Deng had 21 points and 16 rebounds for the Bulls, who improved to 11-2.
Ray Allen led the Celtics with 16 points, but it was not one of his better shooting nights. Brandon Bass was solid in his first start, coming within a rebound of a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds. Paul Pierce posted another rough shooting night, going 3-of-12 from the floor.
Fourth quarter, :55, Bulls 88-75: Brian Scalabrine checked in for the Bulls. The TD Garden crowd went wild.
Fourth quarter, 2:29, Bulls 82-73: At least three current Celtics will one day be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but right here, right now, Rose is the reigning MVP and he left his stamp all over this game late.
Rose's deep shot with five minutes left took the air out of the Garden, turning a manageable six-point C's deficit into nine points. Now it's just a matter of defending and rebounding for Chicago, two things the Bulls do best.
Fourth quarter, 5:39, Bulls 77-69: Just as soon as the shooting streak appeared, it disappeared.
The Celtics could have one last run in them, but it will need to come soon. Pierce, who has hit some huge shots in his career, effectively shot the Celtics out of the game with three contested, long jumpers. Those low-percentage shots were exactly the kind the Celtics were shooting early on, and the ones they got away from during their run early in the fourth.
Fourth quarter, 9:59, Bulls 67-66: Here come the Celtics. With Rondo on the bench to start the fourth, Rivers went with a defensive backcourt of Pietrus and Bradley. It ended up sparking the offense when Garnett and Allen knocked down jumpers.
Pietrus, turning into an X-factor off the bench, forced old friend Thibodeau to call a time out with a 3-pointer to pull the Celtics within a point for the first time since early in the first quarter.
End third quarter, Bulls 67-59: No foul.
Rondo really sold a foul by dashing into three Bulls defenders near the 3-point line as the third quarter expire, but the refs weren't buying it.
Still, the Celtics finally put together a stretch of something resembling NBA basketball to close the quarter. Things looked grim when Pierce airballed a jumper with the Celtics trailing 61-48, but the clamoring crowd may have woken up the veteran C's.
Mickael Pietrus provided a spark for the second straight game by dropping a 3 off a crosscourt pass from Rondo. Noah responded with a putback, but O'Neal scored a tough layup, Rondo scored a fastbreak layup and O'Neal rumbled for a dunk to pull Boston within eight points entering the final frame.
Third quarter, 4:08, Bulls 63-50: Is this really where the Celtics are now? Storming back from a 20-point deficit to close the gap to just 13 points, and this is enough for the Garden crowd to come to its feet?
That might have been the least-encouraging 7-0 run in NBA history.
That run, which came to an end with a jumper by Gibson before a cutting Allen layup from Rondo, said all that needs to be said about where these Celtics are as a team. A deficit of a baker's dozen against a team that is supposed to be their competition for the Eastern Conference title is apparently something worth celebrating.
Third quarter, 6:20, Bulls 61-45: The shooting woes are one thing, but coupled with the persistent problems with the defensive rotation, the Celtics are doomed on any night.
Against a championship contender, those problems are only going to be magnified.
Confusion between Bass, Pierce and Garnett led to a layup and jumper by Deng, rendering moot Garnett's two jumpers and an explosive reverse dunk along the baseline by Bass.
Third quarter, 11:46, Bulls 52-35: Well, that's a start.
Bass knocked down a baseline jump shot after setting a screen for Allen, putting the Celtics on the board to start the second half.
It's not much, but it's something for the Celtics after that putrid first half.
Halftime, Bulls 52-33: Well, then. The Celtics are 4-for-4 from the foul line and 3-of-6 from 3-point range, so those are good things.
Now, about the rest of it…
Ray Allen continued to defy age by hitting two of his three attempts from downtown and leading the Celtics with 10 points, but the rest of the Celtics were just plain awful.
The Good: A trip to Boston appeared to be all struggling Bulls forward Carlos Boozer needed to get back on track. The Duke alum was 6-of-8 for 12 points and five rebounds in 17:33. … Ronnie Brewer was also excellent, scoring 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting, mostly off precise cuts. … Chris Wilcox was one of the few Celtics who appeared to have a pulse, pounding home two dunks in 5:23.
The Bad: Kevin Garnett missed all five shots he took in 14:27. … Brandon Bass celebrated his first start by going 2-of-7 with four points in 17 minutes. … Rajon Rondo tied for the team high with seven shot attempts and only made three of them for eight first-half points. Yes, he plays hard and gets a lot of assists, folks, but believe it or not there are shortcomings in his game, blasphemous as that might sound.
The So-so: Derrick Rose was off his typical scoring pace, but he has provided a handful of "Oh, my!" plays, which could mean he was just getting warmed up for the second half.
Second quarter, :35.9, Bulls 50-31: Just as the Celtics started to show some positive signs and kept within 12 points on a jumper by Bass, things unraveled for the Celtics.
Rondo was whistled for a charge on Rose, then picked up a technical for arguing. The Garden crowd didn't get much happier when Pierce was called for a blocking foul on a similar lay involving rose just over a minute later.
By the time it got all sorted out, the Celtics were down by almost 20 and Rose was fulfilling his status as the league's MVP with a two-handed tomahawk dunk.
Second quarter, 4:40, Bulls 36-24: For the first time in the game, Boston got some encouraging production, and surprisingly little-used big man Chris Wilcox played a part.
Allen curled off a screen for a 3-pointer off a feed from Rondo, and following a Brewer jump shot for his sixth point of the game, Pierce was able to draw a foul. His free throws pulled the Celtics within 14 points.
A deflection by Wilcox keyed the Celtics' break on the Bulls' next possession, and although Rondo's layup was off, Wilcox cleaned up the mess to pull the Celtics closer than they have been since they trailed 22-11.
Second quarter, 5:49, Bulls 34-17: A couple of nice defensive plays by Omer Asik — who bears a striking resemblance to a 7-foot, Turkish Judge Reinhold — stifled Celtics drives and help start transition scoring chances for the Bulls.
Asik knocked away a drive-and-feed by Pierce to Wilcox and went straight up to stop a Rondo drive without a foul. Allen and Rondo, the only two Celtics to really have an offensive feel of late, scored on a layup and a jumper, respectively, but they were not enough to prevent Chicago from maintaining its 17-point lead.
Second quarter, 8:38, Bulls 30-13: The Celtics couldn't hit water if they fell out of a scull on the Charles River.
The Celtics may have set a franchise best by missing three shots in one possession, dropping their team shooting percentage to 19 percent (5-of-26). The Bulls are 13-of-24, or 54 percent, so as you may have guessed, they're winning.
Two jumpers by Deng stretched Chicago's lead to 17 and the Celtics need to talk this over. Avery Bradley was in at point guard, but if Rondo is the player many of us believe he is, now is the time he as the point guard must set up his teammates for some layups to get the offense going.
End first quarter, Bulls 26-13: In the matchup of point guards, Rondo might be winning in the boxscore but Rose is winning in the only place that matters: on the scoreboard.
A foolhardy foul by Rose with 0.4 seconds remaining gave Rondo a pair of free throws that kept the Celtics on pace to at least beat their record-low first-half output of 25 points against the Pacers. Beyond that, it was not an encouraging first quarter for the Celtics.
Chicago owned the glass as usual, 17-6, with Deng and Boozer leading the way with eight points apiece.
Rondo finished the quarter with six points on 2-of-4 shooting, two rebounds and three assists while playing the entire 12 minutes. Rose was 1-for-5 from the field but dished five assists and enabled the Bulls to shoot 57 percent. The Celtics shot just 25 percent (5-of-20) in the quarter.
First quarter, 2:23, Bulls 22-11: As stated before, the Bulls were expected to win the rebounding battle, but only the most pessimistic Celtics fan would have expected the margin to be this wide, this early.
The Bulls are outrebounding the Celtics 14-5 in the first 10 minutes and, not surprisingly, have an 11-point lead after a layup by Deng.
The Bulls have three offensive rebounds already, two nights after the Mavericks pulled down 12 offensive rebounds in Boston.
First quarter, 6:17, Bulls 14-6: Back-to-back fast breaks highlighted the difference between Rose and Rondo, and why Rose is considered the superior point guard.
With two defenders ahead of him, Rondo tried to split the defense and drop a bounce pass to a trailing Pierce for a difficult, contested layup. Deng blocked Pierce's shot and started a Bulls break.
On that break, Rose penetrated, drew two Celtics defenders and found a cutting Deng for a dunk to put the Bulls up eight.
Rose has two assists and two rebounds in the first six minutes.
The fact that Rose got his teammate a quality, pretty easy shot — in addition to his superior ability to get to the rim and score in traffic — is what sets Rose apart from Boston's own outstanding point guard.
First quarter, 11:04, Bulls 2-0: One area to watch with Bass getting the start at power forward will be the Celtics' defensive rotations. Bass and fellow newcomer Chris Wilcox have struggled with that aspect.
Bass looked fine helping on a screen-and-roll, but Rose was still able to beat him to the rim for a scoop layup. That's just what Rose does, so there's not much to be critical of there.
7:55 p.m.: Noah, whose scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, blocked shots and minutes are all down this season, is second in fan voting among Eastern Conference centers the All-Star Game.
He's turning over the ball at a career-best rate, though, so that's encouraging, except it isn't.
Vote on, fans. Vote on.
7:50 p.m.: There is a change in the starting lineup. Garnett will be the center, with Brandon Bass getting his first start of the season.
O'Neal had been playing through a sore knee and hamstring, but he is expected to play. Keyon Dooling has a sore right knee and is expected to miss Friday's game and Saturday's game at Indiana.
7:45 p.m.: This is not the game to expect the Celtics to finally break out of their rebounding funk.
The Celtics, who allowed 17 second-chance points to the Mavericks on Wednesday and are second-to-last in the NBA in overall rebounding, take on the best team in the league at keeping opponents off the glass.
That's right. Bulls opponents average just 37.8 rebounds per game, the lowest mark in the league.
Ready for the really bad news? If the Celtics were to grab 37.8 rebounds Friday — which will be pretty hard unless the official scorer decides out of the blue to start giving out tenths of rebounds — that would actually be a half-rebound better than the 37.3 rebounds the Celtics have gotten per game so far.
The starting lineups:
7:30 p.m.: It's funny how winning masks a lot of problems.
The Celtics, mostly healthy despite a roster full of older players who were expected to be nursing a host of injuries by now, are just 4-5 entering Friday's game against the Bulls.
The Bulls, meanwhile, are coping with injuries to star Derrick Rose, as well as guards Richard Hamilton and C.J. Watson.
But the Bulls have concerns beyond injuries that was been overlooked amid their 10-2 start. Starting big men Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah is performing well below career marks, both individually and as a pair.
Boozer is scoring 13.3 points per game and grabbing 7.9 points per game, significantly before his career averages of 17.2 points and 10 rebounds. Noah is averaging 7.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, a noticeable falloff from the 11.7 points and 10.4 rebounds he posted last season. Of greater concern with Noah, who relies on his athleticism, is that coach Tom Thibodeau has give numerous "energy" minutes to Omer Asik.
Asik and Taj Gibson have prevented Chicago from suffering any dropoff despite the starters' decreased minutes and production. John Lucas III helped make up for Rose's absence Wednesday by scoring 25 points along with eight assists and eight rebounds in his first start of his career.
Rose, who has a left toe sprain, told reporters Friday he will play against the Celtics. Hamilton, 33, who has a sore left groin, and Watson, 27, who has a sprained left elbow, are day-to-day.
8 a.m.: Derrick Rose is expected to play through a sprained left big toe, setting up a matchup of elite point guards when the Chicago Bulls visit the Celtics on Friday night.
Rose, the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, will face off with Boston's Rajon Rondo, who is off the the best season of his career, statistically speaking.
Rose averages 20.7 points and 8.6 assists per game. Rondo's scoring average of 15.8 points per game and his field goal percentage of .519 are career highs, while his league-leading 10.1 assists per game makes him just as dangerous a playmaker as ever.
The game also marks a return to Boston for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, a former assistant to Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Thibodeau won the NBA's Coach of the Year award last season after leading the Bulls to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Tip-off is 8 p.m. Join us for updates and analysis throughout the game.