Rajon Rondo scored 26 points and dished out 8 assists, but received little help from his compatriots as the Boston Celtics fell to the Chicago Bulls, 100-89, at the United Center. It made these kids feel bad.
It was the Celtics’ third straight loss and their tenth in the 15 road games they’ve played thus far. It was also the fourth straight game in which the C’s allowed 100 points or more, their longest such streak since a six-gamer at the tail end of the 2010 season.
With a record of 12-12, the Celtics are at .500 for the first time since November 21.
The Bulls received commendable performances from several players, most notably Joakim Noah, whose 11 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists registered as his second career triple-double. Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer chipped in 21 points apiece, with the former going 11-12 from the charity stripe and the latter adding 12 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Nate Robinson, Taj Gibson, and Jimmy Butler combined for 37 points off the bench, going 15-27 from the field along the way. Robinson’s contributions had the greatest impact; he scored 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, netting 9 off three triples that keyed a five-minute 14-2 Chicago run. That stretch saw the Bulls extend their lead from 9 points to 20, forcing Doc Rivers to pull his starters and cede victory to the home team.
The Celtics’ bench, meanwhile, managed a paltry 16 points off 4-24 shooting in a combined 99 minutes of action. Jason Terry was the anti-Nate: he produced just two field goal attempts and one make in 26 minutes of floor time. The Celtics were outscored by 18 points while he was on the court.
Kevin Garnett tallied all 10 of his points and all but one of his 8 rebounds in the first half. Paul Pierce added 16 points and didn’t turn the ball over once. Courtney Lee kicked in 14, though 8 of those came in the final minutes of the fourth quarter when the game was well out of hand.
The Bulls attacked the basket early and often, generating the bulk of their offensive production through high-percentage shots. 26 of their 28 first-quarter points came from within the paint or off free throws. By game’s end, they had scored 48 from up close and 21 from the line. Overall, they hit exactly half of their field goal attempts and all but three of their free throw attempts.
Opponents appear to have adjusted to the perimeter blitzing and trapping that the Celtics have used over the past couple of weeks to stifle ball-handlers and the offenses they run. In the seven games prior to their current losing streak – a stretch that Doc indicated as an example of the trap paying dividends – the Celtics allowed 92.4 points per game, six points fewer than their season average of 98.0. In the three games since, they’ve allowed 101.3.
The Bulls in particular seemed adept at using crisp ball movement to exploit the trapping scheme. Per CSNNE’s A. Sherrod Blakely, “Boston’s style of play defensively simply didn’t work primarily because the opponent played with greater, more steady effort … the on-the-floor result was a lot of open looks for the Bulls shooters as the Celtics defenders were consistently a step or two slow in rotating out.”
The Celtics produced at least one highlight during the game. With 3:48 left in the second quarter, Brandon Bass drove baseline off a terrific back-spin and sank an improbable two-handed, overhead, no-look flip shot, and the foul.
It looked pretty impressive on TV. Not so much, apparently, in real life. Four of Bass’ teammates watched the play dispassionately from the sidelines, like a clique of jet-setting Casanovas taking in a striptease at some third-rate topless joint in upstate New York.
Did you ever see that movie Heat? Rajon Rondo has.
The Celtics will look to right the ship tonight as they return to the TD Garden to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers.