End of game, Bulls win 89-80: Kevin Garnett returned to the lineup after a one-game absence and came through with another solid all-around performance, scoring 18 points and pulling down 10 rebounds.
It wasn't enough to offset another off shooting night for Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, aside from a hot third quarter by the latter.
Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah had double-doubles for the Bulls, who improved to 7-2 without reigning MVP Derrick Rose. Deng had 23 points and 10 assists, Boozer had 23 points and 15 assists and Noah had 15 points and 16 rebounds, eight of which were offensive.
The Celtics (15-14) fell to just a half-game ahead of the Knicks in the Atlantic Division standings. The Bulls (25-7) maintained the best record in the NBA.
Fourth quarter, :41.6, Bulls 87-80: James fouled out, but from this seat it appeared at least three of his fouls were bogus. Both of the offensive fouls should have been blocking fouls on O'Neal, and James' deflection on Pierce was questionably called a defensive foul.
Either way, that's 17 good minutes from a guy who was playing in Erie of the NBADL before the Bulls signed him to fill in for the reigning MVP.
Fourth quarter, :47.0, Bulls 87-78: The Celtics did not execute at either end of the floor in the fourth quarter, and they'll unsurprisingly go home with a loss in this one.
James, on a 10-day contract, carved up the Celtics defense with eight points and five assists, finding Deng for a 3 to ice it. Deng has scored 23 points, tying Boozer for the game-high.
Deng also has 10 assists and Boozer 15 rebounds for a couple double-doubles by the Chicago vets.
Fourth quarter, 1:12, Buls 84-77: Rivers called for a time out to ponder how, exactly, the Celtics can get back into this game, because two baskets and two defensive stops make this a different ball game.
We'll see what Rivers has up his suit jacket.
Fourth quarter, 5:14, Bulls 79-69: James has made the Celtics defense look silly on a couple of thread-the-needle passes in the fourth quarter.
James, who got the assist to Deng that gave the Bulls an eight-point lead, fired a one-handed pass to Boozer underneath the hoop to stretch Chicago's run to 10-0. It could be more if Noah had knocked down his free throws on the previous possession.
Fourth quarter, 6:33, Bulls 77-69: That was not very smart. Wilcox thought he was fouled on a shot attempt and angrily argued. He picked up a technical, not only giving the Bulls a free point on the foul shot by Kyle Korver but also saddling Wilcox with four personal fouls.
Deng started an 8-0 Bulls run when he pump-faked Pierce out of his shorts and stepped to the side to hit a 3 that gave the Bulls a 74-69 lead. Deng then finished off the run by getting a nice feed from James for a layup.
Fourth quarter, 8:42, Bulls 69-67: The zone defense was a dud Wednesday against the Pistons, and it's not difficult to see why. There was no Garnett in the rear, calling out signals.
The zone defense works so much more fluidly with Garnett in the back barking out at players where to be. He actually pushed Wilcox into the passing lane, leading to a 24-second violation by the flummoxed Bulls.
Rondo connected with Wilcox on another oop. It's scary to think what Rondo might be able to do with a young, athletic frontcourt big, because Wilcox is only about 50 percent as athletic as an acrobatic finisher like Blake Griffin.
Fourth quarter, 11:45, Celtics 61-60: Wilcox caught an oop from Rondo to give the Celtics the lead for the first time in the second half. Rondo has 12 points, six assists and six rebounds and has an outside chance at his second straight triple-double against the Bulls.
End of third quarter, Bulls 60-59: Said it before. Will say it again. For all his excellence, Rondo is good for three to four completely puzzling plays per game.
A stellar shooting display by Allen, who hit three 3's in the third quarter, brought the Celtics within a point. But after a defensive stop, Rondo didn't come back to get the ball from Garnett after a defensive rebound, and didn't even turn his head when Garnett threw an outlet pass.
Then in the waning moments of the quarter, Rondo opted to draw a foul — when the Bulls had a foul to give — rather than try a halfcourt heave. The Celtics inbounded the ball with .7 seconds left and Rondo didn't even put up a prayer.
Would the shot have gone in? Probably not, but it might have. Such moves by NBA players, who don't want to hurt their field goal percentage, are part of what turns off so many fans from this league. It's especially unforgiveable with a player like Rondo, who we already know isn't a great shooter.
Make no mistake, preserving his field goal percentage is why Rondo didn't try to take a halfcourt shot. Happens way more often in this league than I'd like.
Third quarter, 1:52, Bulls 60-54: Doc Rivers will not be happy. The Celtics went to a zone defense, as they occasionally do, and rookie JaJuan Johnson appeared to make mistakes on consecutive defensive possessions to give Boozer easy baskets.
Boozer missed a bunny on a break, though, which helped the Celtics' cause.
Third quarter, 3:56, Bulls 56-51: Allen missed his first seven 3-point attempts until, schwap!, he stepped back on the break and drained a triple to cut Boston's deficit to five points.
Since taking their second 16-point lead on a jumper by Noah, the Celtics went on a 14-3 run, led by Garnett and Rondo but also helped by Wilcox, who had a one-handed throwdown and a free throw during the burst.
Third quarter, 5:51, Bulls 54-45: The Celtics manage to slow down the Bulls' pace and force Noah and Boozer a bit farther from the hoop, allowing Boston to mount a 10-3 run despite underwhelming offensive play.
Pierce complained for a foul after pretty much every missed shot, and none of those plays were close to being fouls. Few teams give Pierce as much trouble as the Bulls.
As for Boozer, apparently his spray-on hair caused a stir on Sunday. Boozer is a guy who tucks his shirt into his sweatpants, so maybe we shouldn't really expect that much from such a fashionista.
Third quarter, 10:02, Bulls 51-35: Watson beat Rondo for a backdoor layup off a feed from Deng, then Rondo fell asleep and left Watson wide open for a 3.
Watson's shooting mark is now up to a resounding 3-for-9, while the Bulls lead is at its largest in the game.
Halftime, Bulls 44-35: That's right, the Celtics scored 35 points in the first half after leading 24-18 after one quarter.
For those with a third-grade arithmetic education, that's 11 second-quarter points for the C's.
The Bulls absolutely owned the paint, hauling in 29 total rebounds, 10 offensive, to the Celtics' 18 and three. The Bulls also went 9-of-13 from the line, while the Celtics as usual did not drive often enough to draw any fouls, going 5-for-5 from the stripe.
The Bulls ended the half shooting 39 percent, but that mark trended upward in the final minutes.
The Good: Kevin Garnett played his typical strong all-around game, posting eight points, four rebounds and a blocked shot in 14:24. He's not enough to carry the team at this point in his career, though. … Rajon Rondo's 10 points on 5-for-10 shooting with three assists, three rebounds and no turnovers is a gift and a curse. His production is nice for the C's, but those game-high 10 field goal attempts prevent him from geting his teammates involved. … Carlos Boozer doesn't play defense. We get it. But he scored 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting, nabbed nine rebounds and had five assists, complementing Joakim Noah, who had 12 points and six rebounds. … Luol Deng is one of those do-everything types who tends to sneak up on you. Watching the first half, I had no idea he had 10 points, five assists and three rebounds until I checked out the boxscore.
The Bad: For the love of all that's holy, somebody put a shooting muzzle on C.J. Watson. Two games after taking 23 shots against the Celtics (23!), the normal backup to Derrick Rose took seven shots in the first half, with all but one being total bricks. He had no assists and committed three fouls. … Ray Allen is en route to a fourth straight off game. After scoring 22 points in the loss to the Lakers, Ray has posted totals of six, 11 and 10 points. He missed all five field goal attempts in the first half and has one point at the break.
The So-so: Paul Pierce scored eight points, but he needed nine field goal attempts to get their and did not earn a free throw attempt in 18:23. He had two assists and two rebounds.
Second quarter, :38.4, Bulls 42-33: The Bulls only led for about three possessions in the first quarter, but they turned things around in the second quarter. Their field goal percentage is at 40 percent and rising.
A 13-0 run, keyed by six points by Noah, a 3-pointer and two assists by Deng and two baskets and an assist by Boozer, gave Chicago a decent nine-point cushion.
Second quarter, 3:59, game tied 33-33: Real Celtics fans will recall Mike James, the undrafted guard out of Duquesne who spent part of the 2003-04 season in Boston.
James came off the bench an sparked Chicago to a run that tied the game. His first play was a crossover to a banked floater, and he troubled Rondo on defense and should have gotten credit for forcing a turnover, but the referee blew the call and said a ball Rondo lost out of bounds was tipped by James. It was clear to the naked eye and on replay that it wasn't tipped, but whatever.
James then fed Boozer for a dunk that pulled the Bulls within two points before a baby hook by Noah knotted it up. The Bulls' field goal percentage began to inch up from a low of 25 percent.
Second quarter, 5:26, Celtics 31-26: The Bulls are known for their defense, but the Celtics played like the superior defensive squad for the majority of the first half.
The Celtics held the Bulls to 30 percent shooting and forced eight turnovers. If not for Chicago's nine offensive rebounds, the Celtics would have started running away with the game.
The Celtics are the best team in the league in opponent's scoring at 87.1 points per game, but that is mostly due to the snail's pace the Celtics force opponents to play. The Bulls are tops in the NBA in point differential, the scoring stat that really matters, at plus-9.8.
Second quarter, 8:26, Celtics 24-22: If Judge Reinhold — excuse me, Omer Asik — would stop bringing the ball down after grabbing offensive rebounds, the Celtics would be in trouble.
Asik grabbed three offensive rebounds in the early minutes of the second quarter, giving the Bulls eight offensive boards in the game. Two of those times, Asik lost the ball without even getting a shot off.
Offensive rebounding by opponents has been an issue for the Celtics all year, but it's particularly worrisome since the Celtics have their full compliment of big men in the lineup.
End of first quarter, Celtics 24-18: Not that this should be news to any Celtics fans, but Jermaine O'Neal played well until foul trouble forced him to the bench.
The Bulls briefly took the lead by challenging O'Neal and Chris Wilcox, drawing fouls on three straight possessions to pull ahead 16-14. Rondo helped make short work of that, however, following a banked jumper by Mickael Pietrus with six consecutive points to push the C's lead to six, matching their largest of the game.
First quarter, 5:54, Celtics 12-11: Scoring correction. Rondo's putback earlier in the quarter turned out to have come after the shot clock buzzer on review, so take it off the board.
Minus two points and minus one offensive rebound for Rondo.
First quarter, 5:54, Celtics 14-11: Three days without a game seemed to do well for Kevin Garnett's legs. Garnett, who missed Wednesday's game with a hip flexor injury, scored four points and nabbed three rebounds in the opening minutes.
The Celtics came out shooting their patented outside jumpers, of course, but Pierce and Rondo showed an effort to get to the rim. That offensive versatility will be vital against a strong defensive team like the Bulls.
First quarter, 8:37, Celtics 10-6: Paul Pierce came out of the gates like a player who doesn't expect to be held to 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting, or something similar to it, for a second straight night.
Pierce scored the Celtics' first six points, his last basket starting a 6-0 Boston run that forced the Bulls to use an early time out.
7:40 p.m.: Kevin Garnett is in the starting lineup for Thursday's game at Chicago.
Garnett missed Wednesday's game against the Pistons with a sore hip flexor, but he was close to playing against Detroit. As a game-time decision again Thursday, Garnett and the Celtics opted to give it a go.
The projected starting lineups are below.
7 p.m.: Derrick Rose will reportedly miss his fourth straight game when the Bulls host the Celtics on Thursday.
As on Wednesday, Kevin Garnett is expected to be a game-time decision for the Celtics.
8 a.m. ET: The Bulls are in a bad mood, and Sunday's loss to the Celtics is only part of it.
After falling to the Celtics in Boston, the Bulls gave up 115 points in a win over the Kings. As far as the defensive-minded Bulls are concerned, that's as good as a loss.
Derrick Rose's status is still uncertain as he continues to fight lower back soreness. Kevin Garnett is expected back in the lineup after almost playing Wednesday with a sore hip flexor, and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will try to recover after a horrible collective offensive night against the Pistons.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 8 p.m. ET.