Taking Bulls by the horns
Celtics grab 2-1 series lead in a blowout
CHICAGO - The Celtics felt like the playoffs had started without them. If so, the faux Celtics were replaced last night by the hard-edged, defense-oriented Celtics, who took a 107-86 victory over the Bulls in Game 3 and a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.
Paul Pierce scored 24 points in 27 minutes, his hot start setting the offensive tone as the Celtics led from the opening possession. But it was the Celtics' defense, the best in the NBA in field goal percentage, which made the difference.
Bulls guards Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon, unstoppable in Games 1 and 2, never got started. Shots the Bulls were making in Boston were off target last night. Shots Gordon was getting in Game 2 simply weren't there. When the Bulls drove, they found the lane clogged. When the Bulls moved the ball, the Celtics rotated. Space was restricted, time ran out on the shot clock.
"When we play Celtics basketball and we don't turn the ball over, it's hard to score on us," said forward Glen Davis, a starter for most of the second half of the season in place of Kevin Garnett (right knee strain). "We didn't do anything different, we did it harder. That's what it's all about, go out and play hard and execute. When we play Celtics basketball, it's hard to beat us. The first two games we didn't play Celtics basketball, we didn't play the way we know how to play."
Pierce provided the lead on the opening possession, and the Celtics never surrendered the advantage. They concluded the first half with a 59-37 advantage, holding the Bulls to 30 percent shooting.
And when Pierce needed relief, Stephon Marbury provided it, with 13 points off the bench in 24 minutes.
Rajon Rondo (20 points, 11 rebounds) outdueled Rose for the second successive game. Rose scored 9 points and had two assists, struggling to decipher the Celtics' half-court defense. And the Bulls failed to get into a transition game as the Celtics shot 51.1 percent in the first half.
"I thought our guys really came out with a great defensive focus," coach Doc Rivers said. "They missed some shots, too, obviously, early, that they can make. So, we have some things we have to correct. I just thought we had great focus, and when you play like that and when you play together like a team you give yourself a chance to win.
"It was all the players. They just made great shots, had great focus. [Pierce] said it the other day, we gave up 100-plus [points] in the two games and the only way we're going to win is by being a defensive team. We didn't turn the ball over, so they didn't get any breaks. We were making shots and they were taking the ball out of bounds - that takes them out of transition. That allowed us to keep them off the break and if you keep them off the break you've got a chance."
Successive 3-pointers by Marbury and Ray Allen gave the Celtics a 22-point halftime lead. The Celtics closed the half with an 11-1 run over the final 2:21. Davis (14 points, nine rebounds) dunked off a steal following a Chicago timeout for a 50-36 lead. After a Joakim Noah foul shot, Brian Scalabrine made his first appearance since Feb. 23, replacing Mikki Moore. Then, Marbury hit a 3-pointer, grabbed an offensive rebound to set up Allen for a three, and assisted on another Allen three with 28 seconds remaining.
"We started out poor, we were tentative," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We missed a lot of free throws [shooting 17 of 27] and our ball movement was terrible. You have to give the Celtics a lot of credit - they are a veteran team, defending champions, and they play on the road as well as anyone."
But it wasn't just the Celtic veterans making things happen. The youngsters and newcomers also made contributions.
Davis and Rondo, both 23-year-olds, produced numbers and intangibles. Kendrick Perkins, 24, outmaneuvered Noah in the early going, then Moore provided solid relief with three blocked shots.
"Team defense, everyone had each other's back," said Perkins, who scored 6 points and had seven rebounds. "I thought we made a statement. I felt this was a must-win. We had to win this game to get home court back into our favor. We knew we had to win one on the road and I just figured this was the most important. They'll adjust, we'll adjust, too. That's what the playoffs are about, making adjustments. We've just got to be ready to take their best punches."