Playing without Derrick Rose (back) for the second consecutive contest, the Bulls lost to the Boston Celtics 95-91 on Sunday afternoon at TD Garden. The Bulls dropped to 23-7 this season and finished their season-long, nine-game road trip with a 6-3 mark.
With Rose out, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo reeked havoc all day, dropping a triple-double of 32 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds and two steals while shooting 11-for-22 from the field and 10-for-13 from the free throw line in 40 minutes of action. Kevin Garnett added 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Ray Allen and Chris Wilcox scored 11 apiece. The Bulls' point guards, C.J. Watson and John Lucas III, had their moments, but struggled to defend Rondo and combined to shoot 11-for-32. Watson ended up with a team-high-tying 22 points and six assists. Carlos Boozer poured in 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting, although he struggled defensively at times. Joakim Noah brought lots of energy once again, especially in the first quarter, and had 16 points and nine rebounds.
Coach Tom Thibodeau's bunch had won four straight road games by 20 or more points, largely thanks to the fact that they were able to impose their will on the opponent from start to finish. However, the Celtics (15-12) looked like that type of team from the outset of Sunday's tilt, jumping out to an 18-7 lead almost midway through the first quarter, which was filled with runs by both squads. Then, the Bulls had a 10-0 stretch to cut the Celtics' lead to 28-23 at the end of the opening frame. Given the fact that the Bulls shot a paltry 34 percent from the field to the Celtics' 55.3 percent and allowed 16 fastbreak points, the visitors were fortunate to trail just 48-43 at halftime as they got 12 and 10 points from Noah and Boozer, respectively, while they forced nine turnovers and outrebounded the Celtics 26-19.
The Bulls made plenty of runs on this afternoon. Each time the Celtics would open up an eight- or a nine-point lead and were on the verge of breaking the game open, the Bulls responded. Unlike their last four games in which they imposed their will on the opponent from start to finish, the Bulls didn't get off to a good start and that forced them to play catchup against a Celtics team that has won 10 of its last 13 games. The Bulls appeared to be finished when the Celtics went on a 12-4 run, capped off by back-to-back alley-oop dunks, to take an 86-72 lead with five minutes, seven seconds to play.
Still, the Bulls showed lots of resolve and used a 16-5 run to get within 91-88 with just over a minute left. Luol Deng put up just 10 points for the game, but knocked down several clutch free throws late. It wasn't enough, though, as the Bulls didn't make the big play when they needed to. Boozer collected a loose ball off a bad pass by Paul Pierce -- who had only nine points but hit a backbreaking three-pointer in the fourth quarter -- but the Bulls' forward missed a streaking, wide-open Watson on the other end.
Instead, Boozer called a timeout with 27.6 seconds left, and the Bulls down 91-88. However, Watson missed a highly contested three-pointer with around 22 seconds left, and on the following Bulls' possession he missed a critical free throw. Although, the Bulls weren't able to get over the hump all afternoon and simply looked as if they lacked the firepower to push through, as ESPN analyst Jon Barry alluded to at halftime.
In many ways, the Bulls had no business being in the game. They were minus Rose, shot a paltry 38.6 percent from the field and missed 14-of-20 three-pointers. The Bulls will now play six games in a row at home, tied for their longest homestand of the season. Thibodeau has to pleased with his team's valiant effort, and the Bulls put themselves in position to pull out the victory but weren't able to do that -- which obviously won't sit well with anyone on the team.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, they could very well be without Rose for several games. The 6-foot-3 point guard sat out his second consecutive game because of lower back spasms and will see a specialist on Monday in Chicago. Rose's back injury is still not believed to be a long-term issue, but the fact that it's been bothering Rose for longer than he had expected is alarming for the Bulls.
Next up, the Bulls have a day off Monday before playing their first home game since Jan. 27 on Tuesday night against the Sacramento Kings (10-17) at the United Center.