Final, Bulls win 100-89: One of the most atrocious performances of the season for the Celtics is mercifully over. Coming off two days of rest, the Celtics delivered a listless defensive performance and let one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league, which had hit triple-digits in scoring four times all season, score 100 points in a crushing loss.
Rajon Rondo’s 26 points and eight assists should not fool anybody. No one in a green-and-black jersey played well throughout the game. Kevin Garnett went for 10 points and seven rebounds in the first half, then he contributed just a single rebound the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, Chicago got strong performances all around. Well before Nate Robinson began his fourth-quarter circus act, Joakim Noah did the damage that really hurt Boston. Noah had 11 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists for his second career triple-double.
Fourth quarter, 5:50, Bulls 95-75: All right, if Robinson’s first two 3-pointers were not the daggers, then his third must be. Robinson stepped back, gave Chicago a 20-point lead, and coasted his way back down the court as the United Center crowd erupted.
The Celtics are on their way to three losses in a row.
Fourth quarter, 9:01, Bulls 87-73: Celtics fans know all about the damage Nate Robinson can do. Even when he seems like he is under wraps, he can find the smallest opening to go on his own personal run.
Jeff Green, who has been so silent in this game you might have forgotten he was even playing, drained a corner three to pull Boston within eight points. Then Robinson went off. He launched a triple from about three steps beyond the arc and touched nothing but twine. About a minute and a half later, he canned another long three.
It is still early, but that could be game, set and match.
End of third quarter, Bulls lead 79-70: Well, that was … boring.
Offense can be fun to watch, but when almost half of a team’s scoring comes at the free throw line and nobody seems very interested in stopping anybody, the shine wears off quickly. The Celtics and Bulls put up 46 points in the third quarter, and Chicago shot 50 percent from the field. Boston was pretty close to that shooting percentage as well.
Carlos Boozer, who struggles to do anything right for the Bulls oftentimes, is already working on a double-double with 19 points and nine boards. Noah is already there with 11 and 10, and he is just two assists shy of a triple-double.
Rondo went off for 13 points in the quarter to get to 26 points and eight assists for the game, but he has not necessarily played well. He is killing the Celtics with all his gambling on defense, although he has taken care of the ball with only two turnovers.
Third quarter, 3:18, Bulls 70-67: If you love hot foul-shooting action, you are a big fan of this third quarter.
The teams have combined for 14 free throws in the quarter, including four by Rondo to lead the way, as the pace of the game has ground to a halt. The only fortunate aspect from the Celtics’ perspective is that they have stayed within one or two possessions, but the Bulls have prevented them from getting any closer.
Third quarter, 9:06, Bulls 57-54: As the second half begins the unfold, it is Thibodeau’s turn to worry. Following a baby hook shot by Boozer, the Celtics reeled off three straight baskets to make it a one-possession game.
Rondo flicked home a running finger-roll, Bass swished another jumper and Lee took Belinelli off the dribble for a layup. As long as the Celtics can keep this up once their starters need a blow — and that is by no means a guarantee — the Celtics could have a lot more reason to be concerned.
Halftime, Bulls lead 55-48: Rondo must be living right. He already has two 3-pointers, the last of which was 120 percent luck. Whenever anybody banks home a trey, luck overwhelms skill.
The Celtics needed Rondo’s lucky shot, as well as his all-skill running bank shot to close the half. Without those shots, the Celtics could be looking at a massive deficit in Chicago. The Bulls outscored the Celtics in the paint 30-16 and held a dominant 12-2 advantage in second-chance points.
Both teams continued to play well offensively, shooting better than 50 percent from the field, but the Bulls shared the ball much more effectively. The Bulls had 17 assists on 22 field goals compared to 11 assists on 21 field goals for the C’s. Deng was the high man with 16 points, while Garnett posted the strongest all-around first half with 10 points (on 5-for-5 shooting) and seven rebounds. Pierce and Rondo were also in double figures thanks to strong shooting halves.
Second quarter, 2:40, Bulls 49-38: Bass has had a rough couple of weeks, but he is aggressive so far in this one. He shows no ill effects from his 5-for-15 shooting mark in the last three games, taking seven shots in his first 16 minutes on the court.
The first five of those clanged away, but the last two were encouraging. He swished a jumper from the baseline and spun around Deng in the post for a reverse layup, plus the foul.
Second quarter, 7:17, Bulls 40-29: To quote the great Ron Burgundy, that escalated quickly. Just as we finish praising Garnett, the Bulls go on an 8-2 run to extend their lead to 11 points. Noah, Jimmy Butler and Nate Robinson do all the damage, and Rivers wanted to talk it over after Robinson’s 3-pointer.
Second quarter, 8:52, Bulls 32-27: If only the Celtics could clone Garnett, or somehow give him bionic legs and back, they might never lose a game.
Starting the second quarter, Garnett went back to work. He dropped the first two shots he saw and was undeterred by Noah, probably the best defensive big man around.
End of first quarter, Bulls lead 28-23: Luol Deng will be shooting all the free throws, thank you very much. That really is no exaggeration. Deng took all eight Chicago free throws in the first quarter. The only other player in the game to go to the line was Jared Sullinger, who split a pair.
The reason for the dearth of free throws was that it was a crisp quarter overall for both teams. The Celtics committed only one turnover, the Bulls none, and nearly every shot taken was a quality shot. This is not an offense-lover’s dream, but as far as basic, fundamental basketball, it was a good start in the Windy City.
First quarter, 3:04, game tied 18-18: Well, Garnett left the game, and by now you should know what happens whenever that occurs.
The Bulls went on a 6-0 run to wipe out the Celtics’ 15-10 lead, then ran that to an 8-3 run to maintain the tie. Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox both helped out with defensive goaltending violations, although it appeared Bass knocked Belinelli’s layup attempt before it hit the glass.
First quarter, 6:11, Celtics 13-10: Figures. Anytime you preview a matchup of two traditionally good defensive teams, it makes sense in a strange sort of way that they would go the first six minutes without forcing a single turnover and shooting 11-for-23 combined from the field.
It also figures that Lee, a strong defender, had two early baskets and had taken the most shots of anybody on the floor.
8:01 p.m.: Jason Terry is back in his comfort zone. He will come off the bench for the third straight game, with Courtney Lee getting the starting nod.
As Avery Bradley practiced for the first time Monday, the defensive whiz may be getting closer to getting back on the court. Considering Boston’s defensive struggles, they would probably want to stick Bradley in the starting lineup as soon as possible, so it makes sense that Rivers would want to re-integrate Terry into the reserve rotation.
7:30 p.m.: Since Thibodeau left Boston for Chicago in 2010, Celtics-Bulls matchups have been defined by defense. It makes sense that the two coaches who helped popularize the strong-side overload, help-heavy defense would have teams that personify stopping the ball.
The matchup has changed a little this time. The Bulls are still one of the league’s top defensive squads, but the Celtics have stepped back to being about average defensively. The good news, at least for the Celtics, is that they have also become more or less average offensively. They are scoring just under 101 points per 100 possessions and are 17th in that respect. That is actually a huge upgrade from last season, when the Celtics did not even score 99 points per 100 possessions, making them the seventh-worst offensive team in the NBA.
Of course, Celtics coach Doc Rivers would rather have a staunch defense and an underwhelming offense, given the choice. (Isn’t that the case with every coach, though? How often to you talk to a coach who says, “You know what I love? Letting the other team score.”) In any event, the Celtics’ average offense will face the Bulls’ outstanding defense in Chicago. If that does not sound very optimistic for the Celtics, it shouldn’t.
3:55 p.m.: There are certain problems Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau probably does not mind having. Facing the prospect of having too many point guards once Derrick Rose returns from his left knee injury is a conundrum Thibs would take any day of the week, and twice on Sunday.
After all, that would mean Rose was healthy.
In the meantime, Thibodeau has received solid point guard play from a trio of players. Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson and even rookie Marquis Teague have supplied quality minutes. Teague may be the most surprising so far. The rookie out of Kentucky has been pressed into duty due to Hinrich’s injury troubles. (Hinrich returned to the lineup Monday after missing two games with a bruised left knee.) Hinrich is expected back on the court against the Celtics.
Robinson is averaging 10.5 points and 3.6 assists while starting three out of 23 games. Hinrich has averaged 6.6 points and 5.5 assists in 20 games, all starts.
8 a.m. ET: Some people within the Celtics organization fancy Rajon Rondo as an MVP candidate. It is far too early to say if that is right or wrong, but if the point guard wants to build his case, a game like Tuesday’s would be a good place to start.
Rondo and the Celtics (12-11) come to Chicago losers of two straight, once again fighting to stay above .500 and ahead of the Sixers in the Atlantic Division standings. The Bulls (13-10) are once again right in the thick of the Eastern Conference race, leading the Central Division despite Derrick Rose missing the entire season thus far as he rehabilitates his left knee. For Rondo, this is the type of game in which MVP candidacies need to be born. Winning a road game against one of the league’s top squads, which has won five of its last six and has not had consecutive losses since Nov. 21, would send a statement to the LeBron James and Kevin Durant boosters.
The rest of the Celtics will be tested as well. Joakim Noah is one of the league’s toughest defenders and rebounders at the center position, and Carlos Boozer has been solid offensively and on the glass (although he still is a mess defensively). Chicago, one of the top defensive teams in the NBA, could make life miserable for a middling Boston offense.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 8 p.m.
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