Playing without Derrick Rose (back) for the fourth game in a row, the Chicago Bulls topped the Boston Celtics 89-80 in a nationally televised game on Sunday night at the United Center. The Bulls improved to 25-7, 11-1 at home, this season.
The Bulls placed four players in double figures against the Celtics (15-14), who were the victors when the two teams played Sunday afternoon. After dishing out a career-high 11 assists against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night, Luol Deng dropped his second straight point-assist double-double, with 23 points and 10 assists to go along with four rebounds in 44 minutes of action. He also knocked down a career-high six three-pointers and held his counterpart, fellow All-Star Paul Pierce, to just 14 points on 6-for-16 shooting. Both Carlos Boozer -- who had arguably his best game of the season -- and Joakim Noah put up double-doubles as well, combining for 38 points and 31 rebounds. Mike James, whom the Bulls re-signed on a 10-day contract Tuesday, played all but 41 seconds in the fourth quarter and gave the Bulls exactly the type of lift they needed off the bench, posting eight points, four assists and a plus-minus of +15 in 17 minutes. C.J. Watson added 11 points but found himself on the bench for much of the second half due to foul trouble.
For the third consecutive game, Chicago got off to a slow start, as coach Tom Thibodeau called a timeout three minutes, 23 seconds into the game. The Celtics used a 10-2 run to take a 24-18 lead over the Bulls through one quarter of play. Rajon Rondo scored six points during that stretch and dazzled with an array of shots and passes in the opening frame. Trailing 30-22 with just under seven minutes left in the second quarter, the Bulls finished on a 22-5 run and were on top of the Celtics 44-35 at halftime.
The Bulls led by as many as 16 points in the third quarter, but the Celtics -- who were led by Kevin Garnett's 18-point, 10-rebound effort -- rallied, finishing the period on a 22-7 run, and were down by just one heading into the fourth. Ray Allen was held scoreless in the first two quarters but came alive in the second half, connecting on three three-pointers for 12 points. After a slow start on the glass, the Bulls outrebounded the Celtics 52-37 for the game, including 19-3 in the second frame. Both teams shot below 40 percent from the field, although the Bulls poured in 10 three-pointers to the Celtics' three.
Over the course of the season, the Bulls' mantra has been about the next man stepping up when needed. On this night, James stepped up for a foul-plagued Watson -- not to mention the reigning NBA MVP, who was on the bench in street clothes -- and Deng stepped up his game as the contest wore on. Yes, Rondo flirted with yet another triple-double, with 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, but James battled him on both ends of the court and made several sleek finds throughout the game, including the dagger to Deng for a three-pointer to give Chicago an 87-78 lead with 47 seconds left, which they would not relinquish.
Next up, the Bulls have a day off Friday before facing the New Jersey Nets (8-23) on Saturday afternoon at the United Center.