Rajon Rondo was calling the action for TV and Avery Bradley was dealing with another issue involving his troublesome right ankle, but the Boston Celtics still had a chance — until they didn’t.
With the Celtics once again achingly close to a victory, Joakim Noah snuffed out Boston’s hopes with a dominating fourth quarter for the Chicago Bulls. In 12 virtually flawless minutes, Noah exhibited why he has emerged as a late darkhorse candidate for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award.
In the fourth quarter alone, Noah scored 10 points, grabbed three rebounds and blocked a shot to seal the 94-80 win for the Bulls (42-32), who kept pace with the Toronto Raptors in the hunt for the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Noah finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in the game, posting his second consecutive all-around dismantling of the Celtics (23-51). In the last two nights, Noah has torched Boston with 32 points, 19 rebounds, 18 assists, three blocks and three steals.
He’s not quite MVP material as long as LeBron James is lacing up sneakers, but with Paul George’s second-half swoon, Noah has emerged as Kevin Durant’s biggest competition for SMVP: Second-Most Valuable Player.
As far as broadcasting debuts go, Rondo’s went fairly well. He admitted his pregame stand-up with play-by-play announcer Mike Gorman was choppy — it was — but he fell into a groove early in the second quarter, offering some tremendous insight. The respect he has for Noah and Kirk Hinrich showed through, too.
It was enough for Rondo, who was taking his customary rest of the second leg of a back-to-back, to consider doing it again.
“I’ll have to take to my lawyers and my agent and my coaching staff, my general manager, see how it goes from there,” Rondo told reporters.
Former Celtics player and commentator Brian Scalabrine sent Rondo a long text message before the game with some tips, and Cedric Maxwell, Sean Grande and Tom Heinsohn all offered advice, Rondo said.
It’s tough to look good against Noah, but Brandon Bass came about as close as an opposing big man can come. Bass did yeoman’s work down low, compiling 18 points and nine rebounds, often matched up head-to-head with Noah.
“Brandon Bass was a stud,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters in Chicago. “He played his tail off. It’s too bad we didn’t have him guarding all five spots sometimes in the game. He was very aggressive on offense, very aggressive on defense. He was really great (Sunday). I was happy for him. I complimented him in the locker room, in front of everybody else, and he deserves that.”
As soon as the fourth quarter opened with the Bulls leading by a single point, it was as though the Celtics hit a wall. The Bulls reeled off a 17-2 run to open the quarter and held the Celtics to 10 points over the final 12 minutes of their home-and-home set with Chicago.
There was some murmuring from Celtics observers on social media about the green team being tired, playing their second game in two nights. Please.
“Everybody’s in the same position right now,” Noah said. “Everybody’s tired. You’ve just got to find a way.”
The Bulls found a way. The Celtics didn’t. That in itself is pretty much a microcosm of the team’s respective seasons.