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Bulls 97, Celtics 81

Rose’s campaign a hit in Chicago

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / April 8, 2011

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CHICAGO — It was like Bulls point guard Derrick Rose was cramming his entire MVP campaign into 24 hours.

It started with the morning media rush.

“I woke up this morning,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, “And Derrick Rose said, ‘We’re playing like crap.’ ’’

An MVP candidate blasting his team after a win. The radio stations ate up the sound bites. So did the back page of the tabloid. Rivers ate it up like breakfast.

“But then,’’ he said, “You’ve got to go back it up.’’

It was a statement game for the Celtics, still stretching for first place, and the Bulls, trying to run away with the race.

It was a statement game for the 22-year-old Rose, the front-runner in the MVP race, trying to become the youngest player to win it.

Every wild drive to the basket was like a bullet point. Every time he corkscrewed through Boston’s front line and lofted a floater that Kevin Garnett, Glen Davis, and Nenad Krstic could only stare at, it was like he was making his case.

Rose finished with 30 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds, and the Bulls dominated the Celtics, 97-81. If it was the closing argument in Rose’s case for MVP, Rivers didn’t argue at all.

“You didn’t know?’’ Rivers said. “He’s done it every night.’’

The United Center crowd was making the statement for Rose late in the first quarter, but Paul Pierce was too busy talking to hear it.

He was walking back to the visitors’ bench mouthing to referee Mark Ayotte, who had just rung him up for his second foul for blocking one of Rose’s drives to the basket.

Pierce, who has taken 10 charges this season, thought the play should have been his 11th, and he was letting Ayotte know about it, finger-pointing and yelling to get his point across.

But Rose was at the free throw line. The hometown crowd showered him with MVP chants.

“They’re not chanting MVP for nothing,’’ said Garnett. “He’s deserving of it.’’

Pierce was strapped to the bench trying not to seethe as Rose continued to operate on the Celtics.

“Everything starts with him,’’ Pierce said. “Right now they’re going to probably end up with the No. 1 seed in the East and a lot of that is attributed to his play.’’

If anything, the teams took completely different attitudes into the game. The Bulls were playing a playoff game. The Celtics treated it like another regular-season game and got run over.

From the 44 points in the paint to the 44 rebounds, the Bulls bullied the Celtics, even forcing the defensive-minded team to drink its own medicine, holding Boston to 38.4 percent shooting. With former Celtics associate coach Tom Thibodeau hardwiring the Bulls to think defense first, they hounded the Celtics to the point that Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen found themselves missing layups.

“They’re playing harder than everybody else — with the talent,’’ Rivers said. “I’ve had some teams — the team in Orlando — that played harder than everybody and didn’t have Derrick Rose. This team is playing harder than everybody and I think that comes from Tibs and I think that comes from Derrick Rose.’’

The Celtics started the second half with a 6-0 burst that put them up, 49-48, but they didn’t get a sniff of the lead again.

“You could see our guys jumping around and puffing their chest out,’’ Rivers said. “And then all of a sudden they made another run and we hung our heads again.’’

The Bulls ostensibly clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Chicago’s magic number is 1. They play Orlando Sunday, and the Magic will be without Dwight Howard, who must serve a league suspension for picking up his 18th technical foul.

The Celtics finished the season series with the Bulls, 2-2, but dropped the last two meetings — both in Chicago.

Allen and Rondo went a combined 6 of 21 on the night. Pierce couldn’t find his touch from long distance (1 for 5 from 3-point range).

The Bulls were 24-12 the last time they faced the Celtics. A threat, but not a force. They’ve won 34 games since, knocking off everyone from Miami to San Antonio and now the reigning Eastern Conference champion Celtics. And with that, the Bulls rested may have their case.

“Let’s keep it real,’’ Garnett said. “We got our [butts] kicked tonight. I haven’t really felt like that in a while.

“If we’re going to be anything in the postseason, we’ve got to get some more fight in us. There’s no way we can come out with an effort like that in a game this big.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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