The Chicago Bulls got up for Friday night's game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden and proved it with a wire-to-wire 88-79 victory. It was an emotional battle, given the fact that they had lost 12 of the last 18 regular-season games to their Eastern Conference rival. The Bulls improved to an NBA-best 11-2 while the Celtics dropped to 4-6, their worst start since the Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen was formed in 2007.
In somewhat of a redemption, each Bulls starter scored in double figures. After missing Wednesday night's 78-64 win over the Washington Wizards because of a sprained left big toe, Derrick Rose scored the evening's first two points on a drive right through the Celtics' defense and dropped a game-high 25 points, seven assists and four rebounds while shooting 9-for-21 from the field in 39 minutes of action. Before the game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said what makes Rose so unique is his ability to turn it on in crunch time despite possibly having a tough shooting performance. The 6-foot-3 point guard -- who seemed to favor his toe early in the game but became much more fluid as the contest wore on -- did just that on Friday.
The Celtics had absolutely no answer for the 23-year-old. Rajon Rondo, who had 14 points and 11 assists, picked Rose's pocket twice, but the Bulls' star took over the game in the final quarter. For coach Tom Thibodeau, though, it should have never gotten to that point. Boston used a blistering 25-6 run, capped off by a Mickael Pietrus three-pointer, to cut the Bulls' lead to 67-66 with 10 minutes to play.
Following a timeout, Rose simply willed his Bulls, scoring 10 of the team's next 13 points on two clutch three-pointers and a pair of acrobatic finishes. It was the Derrick Rose Show, as Luol Deng coined it recently.
"[The toe] feels good," Rose told reporters after the game. "Kept playing tonight. My teammates did a great job with making shots, playing defense. I was just feeding off them."
"I was missing shots before [the fourth quarter]. I think shots that I normally hit I was missing. A couple wide-open threes, layups, I was missing. But I guess from taking that day off [I] just got to get my timing back. Toward the end of the game they were just falling."
One of the players whom Rose fed off was the Bulls' starting small forward. With the national TV crew (ESPN) providing a big stage, Deng made his first, concrete All-Star statement, posting a double-double -- his third straight -- of 21 points and 16 rebounds and thoroughly outplaying perennial All-Star Paul Pierce, who had 13 points and missed 9-0f-12 shots.
"Honestly, I'm not worried about that," Deng told the assembled media of the possibility of receiving more All-Star game recognition. "I mean, that's the honest truth. I'm not really worried about whether people talk about me or not. I'm really happy I'm playing with a bunch of guys that love playing together. And it just makes me a better player. I'm just excited every night. I can't even wait for [Saturday] to play again. And that's the kind of group we have."
Added Rose: "Lu is definitely going to make the All-Star team this year. If he don't, that would be cheating man."
Meanwhile, after being benched for the last two fourth quarter, front-court starters Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer played all but one minute, 29 seconds of the final stanza against the Celtics. Noah had 10 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks, three of which in emphatic fashion in the fourth quarter. Boozer finished with 12 points and did not score in the second half, but moved the ball well, dishing out five assists, and had a game-high plus-minus of plus-19.
Although both players will tell you otherwise, Friday night, from start to finish, was just the second time this season that they truly clicked on both ends of the court. Noah and Boozer played 38 and 34 minutes, respectively. The key for them is to continue to gel together, because they know that if they struggle, Thibodeau won't be afraid to call on Omer Asik and Taj Gibson.
"The strength of our team is our depth," Noah said. We can't forget that. So anybody can step up on any given night and that's our strength. It's important for guys not to get frustrated when it's not there turn. Omer and Taj were playing great [the past two games]. And Coach rides with them -- that's the way he does things. I'm just trying to control the things that I can control about that on the court. It felt good to be out there tonight."
Aside from the third quarter, when the Celtics put up 26 points, Thibodeau was pleased with his team's defense, which held the home team to 41.3 percent shooting. Ronnie Brewer poured in 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting, including a crucial jumper as the Bulls pulled away, and did a good job of running around with Allen, who had a team-high 16 points and made 6-of-13 shots.
Once again, the Bulls dominated their opponent on the glass, outrebounding the Celtics 46-34. Here's a stat the defensive-minded coaching staff will love: The Bulls grab a league-high 46.2 rebounds per game. In addition, the Bulls had only 11 turnovers. They executed Thibodeau's game plan to perfection.
"The rebounding was the key," Thibodeau said. "The last two ball games. If you defend and rebound, and you keep your turnovers down, you'll be in position to win. And we know that works for us."
Next up, the Bulls will be looking for their fifth straight win Saturday night against the Toronto Raptors (4-8) at the United Center (at 7 p.m. on WGN).