The Celtics managed to combine futility and passionate basketball into a wonderfully frustrating, at times entertaining, 88-79 loss to the Chicago Bulls at TD Garden tonight.
The home team could not have possibly set expectations any lower with their early play, and just as it looked like coming into the game, Chicago and Boston looked like two teams going in opposite directions. But tonight's game was a tale of two halves, with the Bulls imposing their dominant defense on the Celtics in the first half before the Celtics got it together enough to make a significant run and cut the lead to one point early in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics scored 13 points in the first quarter on Friday the 13th, and a scarier offensive display from this group of Celtics hasn't been seen since the assemblage of the New Big Three. Every Celtics point in the first quarter came from Rajon Rondo himself or off of a Rondo assist.
So it didn't bode well for the Celtics when Rondo took a breather at the start of the second quarter. The Bulls started the period with an 8-0 run as Avery Bradley and the rest of the team struggled to find any kind of offense with Rondo out of the game. Things improved somewhat for the Celtics when Rondo came back into the game, but they were still outscored by six in the second quarter and found themselves down, 52-33, at halftime.
Normally that would mean game over, but the Celtics seem unwilling to label themselves as the aging, out-of-contention team they appear to be at times. Flashes of the old Celtics emerged in the third quarter as the team outscored the Bulls, 26-15, to cut the lead to single-digits. After being out-rebounded, 27-14, in the first half, the Celtics closed that gap to 11-10 in the third as Kevin Garnett got on the board for the first time and Jermaine O'Neal became a presence around the rim.
The Celtics scored the first seven points of the fourth period to extend the run to 25-6 spanning the two quarters and get within one point, 67-66. Just like they've done many times over the last four years, they had the building rocking and had fans remembering why it is they watch this team.
But they couldn't sustain it, and the Bulls used to 10-3 run to open up some distance and re-extend their lead before holding on for the win.
Rondo paced the Celtics with an almost-triple-double of 14 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds. Derrick Rose led all scorers with 25 points, while Luol Deng had 21 points and 16 rebounds for Chicago.
It's a broken record, but it doesn't get easier for the Celtics anytime soon. They're in Indiana tomorrow night for a rematch against a Pacers team who blew them out at TD Garden last week, and they return home to face the Western Conference favorites, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Monday night.
2:29 4th quarter, Bulls 82-73 Chicago picking apart the Boston zone. Rose makes a three and Ronnie Brewer hit a long jumper to increase the deficit.
6:08 4th quarter, Bulls 77-69 Bulls have found their offense again, led by Rose, whose penetration has opened up shots and for other players.
9:58 4th quarter, Bulls 67-66 They're almost all the way back. The Bulls have yet to score in the fourth and the Celtics have started the period with a 7-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer from Mickael Pietrus. New ballgame. The Celtics' run is now 25-6 spanning the two quarters.
END 3d quarter, Bulls 67-59 Tremendous end to the quarter as the Celtics cut it to single-digits. That entire quarter was 26-15 run by the Celtics, and it felt like one too. Defense led to offense, and the Celtics finally showed a little tenacity on the glass. Rajon Rondo is going to run around this court as fast as he can until it kills him.
3:59 3d quarter, Bulls 63-50 Celtics showing signs of life, especially on the offensive end. Brandon Bass has two offensive rebounds, and one of them led to a 3-pointer by Pierce. A 17-11 run here by the Celtics. Not dominating, but better.
6:31 3d quarter, Bulls 61-43 KG finally makes two in a row.
11:42 3d quarter, Bulls 52-35 Brandon Bass hits his first shot to start the second half, an improvement over his 2 for 7 in the first.
Halftime, Bulls 52-33 It's going to get worse before it gets better. Rondo (8 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) is pretty much matching Rose (8 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds), but Rondo has no help. The Bulls are playing suffocating defense. The Celtics can't execute, and they haven't matched Chicago's energy.
2:17 2d quarter, Bulls 41-28 Rondo takes it at Derrick Rose on the fast-break and gets called for the charge. Rondo upset and gets a technical. Momentum killer.
4:31 2d quarter, Bulls 36-24 Finally some life. Pierce with a steal, Rondo with a run-out, and Chris Wilcox with a follow-up dunk.
5:49 2d quarter, Bulls 34-17 At this point it's hard to see where the offense will come from. Rondo's driving into the paint and finding no options when he gets there. The Bulls are getting their points too easily, especially with Rose out of the game.
Luol Deng has 12 points and 9 rebounds.
8:38 2d quarter, Bulls 30-13: Down to 19-percent shooting for the Celtics as the Bulls start the second quarter on an 8-0 run with Rondo out of the game.
END 1st quarter, Bulls 26-13: Never seen this group of Celtics play this badly in a quarter. Twenty-five percent shooting for the Celtics in the first, and they're getting out-rebounded 17-5.
2:23 1st quarter, Bulls 22-11: The Celtics are shooting 29 percent. Another dreadful offensive performance early on. They're not making it too difficult for Chicago, either. Bulls have 14 of their 22 points in the paint.
6:17 1st quarter, Bulls 14-6: Celtics getting run out of the gym so far. Bad shots on offense leading to run-outs and easy buckets for the Bulls. Paul Pierce is 1of 3, including a miss at the rim.
9:46 1st quarter, Bulls 5-2: Bass defending Noah, KG on Boozer, reversed on Chicago's side of the ball. Got it?
Lineup change: OK so apparently Brandon Bass is starting at center. Didn't know that before the game. Doc Rivers said Jermaine O'Neal was playing tonight. Maybe he will, he's in uniform.
Pregame: Friday night games are always fun. Good atmosphere in here.
Let's get it.