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BULLS 89, CELTICS 82

Celtics look shot at home

Frustrating. That was the word most often used to describe the Celtics' 89-82 loss to the Bulls last night at the FleetCenter. Plenty of other adjectives applied, though none would have been appropriate for polite company or family newspapers. It was without question Boston's worst defeat of the young season, following right on the heels of its biggest victory. The Celtics (4-4) showed up for their second of back-to-back games, their third contest in four nights, then they just stood around on offense.

To understand what was so frustrating -- what left Paul Pierce staring angrily into space, hands on hips at the end of the fourth quarter, and what prompted coach Jim O'Brien to toss his clipboard and pen -- consider the Celtics' bleak offensive statistics. The team that is determined to run scored no points on the break last night. They shot 33 percent, which included a woeful 5 for 21 in the third quarter. They missed nine free throws, almost all at inopportune times in the second half.

Boston depended on Mike James for big baskets, but not even his career-high six 3-pointers and team-high 18 points were enough. While the Bulls shot 50 percent from 3-point range, the Celtics took a season-high 27 3-pointers and made just 8 (30 percent). Double-teamed and triple-teamed and, well, frustrated all night, Pierce did not reach double figures until the fourth.

"We didn't really play with any tempo to our offensive game," said O'Brien. "We didn't push ourselves. We didn't endure on back-to-back games from the standpoint of getting out and pushing ourselves. We got down to the other end and we chose to stand instead of move without the basketball. And I think in the NBA that I know of over the last three years and the way it's going, you stand, you lose on offense.

"I'm sure everyone that's with our franchise is frustrated right now because we let an opportunity get away. But I think it's potential growth. That's how I look at it. You learn from your mistakes. We made mistakes that are very, very correctable and we will correct them. We didn't stand around for the first seven games of the season. We moved. And as a result, our passing game numbers were terrific."

The Celtics were at a loss for why they did not execute an offense they had practiced since the start of training camp. Fatigue? Lack of focus? Before the Bulls took the FleetCenter floor before a crowd of 13,852, coach Bill Cartwright emphasized the importance of focus. Regardless of what happened during the course of the game, Cartwright told his team, "We are going to play harder than the Celtics. Forget the X's and O's, let's just play harder than them." If Chicago (4-5) did that, Cartwright believed his team would be right there at the end of the contest. He was right.

From the start, the Bulls showed more energy and they never trailed by more than 4. Boston never mustered the offense necessary to make a run and trailed, 47-44, at the half. That was before their offense completely deserted them throughout most of the third.

"Mike [James] got it going a little bit, but nobody else could really string together a few makes in a row," said Raef LaFrentz (8 points, 2 blocks). "When you can't do that, you can't build any momentum. It feels like we gave one back. We played so well [Tuesday night in Indiana]. We fought hard to get that `W.' But we just gave back that `W.' So, here we are .500 again."

An 8-2 Chicago run capped by a 3-pointer from Jalen Rose put the visitors ahead by 7 points with 7 minutes 7 seconds remaining in the third. It took Eric Williams (13 points) scoring the final 6 points of the quarter for the Celtics to close within 2 (65-63) entering the fourth. But Boston never led in the second half. Chicago opened the fourth quarter with an 11-2 run to go ahead, 76-65, on a Jamal Crawford 3-pointer with 9:28 left. The Celtics came back with a 13-4 run, cutting their deficit to 2 (80-78) when James hit his sixth 3-pointer of the evening with 4:09 remaining.

But from that point on, the Celtics' stagnant offense stalled. They would record only one more field goal -- a driving layup by Williams on Pierce's eighth assist. The Bulls did not have any field goals over the final 4:28, but the Celtics put the visitors on the line. And the Bulls made 9 of 12 free throws down the stretch to increase their lead.

"We just didn't show the mental toughness on back-to-back nights to get it done," said Pierce (14 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 7 turnovers). "I think the guys in this locker room are pretty much mentally tough. Coming into the game, nobody talked about being tired. We just didn't get the job done. I don't think it was anything they did defensively. We didn't move the ball. We watched each other play one-on-one basketball. It's very frustrating, definitely for myself. We just didn't play the type of basketball we know we can play."

last game
Last game / Sat. in Milwaukee
Bucks
100
Celtics
94
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Monday vs. Memphis, 7 p.m.
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atlantic div. standings
  W L Pct. GB
Philadelphia 9 9 .500 --
Boston 7 9 .438 1.0
New Jersey 7 9 .438 1.0
New York 7 10 .412 1.5
Washington 6 10 .375 2.0
Miami 5 12 .294 3.5
Orlando 1 15 .063 7.0
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