The Bulls took care of business by beating a short-handed Celtics squad 127-121 on Tuesday at the United Center, but logic suggested this should have been an easier win.
Boston came into the game without Kevin Garnett (knee), Glen Davis (ankle), Brian Scalabrine (concussion) and Tony Allen (thumb). Then four minutes into the game, replacement power
forward Leon Powe left with a knee bruise and never returned.
So even though the Celtics still had four of five starters on the floor, they were down to two big men and one of them, Mikki Moore, fouled out less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
Boston was forced to play with Paul Pierce, center Kendrick Perkins and three guards.
The Bulls used this to their advantage very well in the fourth quarter, spreading the floor so Derrick Rose could get to the basket. Then with Perkins committing to help on Rose, Brad Miller cleaned up the garbage.
Miller's veteran savvy paid off in this game. On two straight possessions of a closely contested fourth quarter, Perkins blocked shots, only to have Miller read the play perfectly, catch the ball out of the air and lay it in. Miller also made a nice steal by predicting that Rajon Rondo would float a pass to Perkins. Miller simply backed up and made the interception.
I also liked how coach Vinny Del Negro turned to Tyrus Thomas for defensive help late in the game. Even though it didn't really work, throwing Thomas against Pierce for a couple of possessions may have been an effective change of pace.
--The Celtics had an interesting three days. After scoring a season-low 77 points in Sunday's loss to Milwaukee, Boston gave up an opponent season-high 127 against the Bulls. The previous high was 117 by Indiana on Dec. 7.
It seems to me the Celtics might be the most vulnerable of the East's Big Three heading into the playoffs and maybe even the best first-round matchup for the Bulls. I'm not saying the Bulls could come close to winning a series against any of those teams, but they could conceivably give Boston's older lineup problems if they can push the tempo the way they did Tuesday.
The Celtics' postseason success probably depends on whether Garnett is still hurting or if he's feeling rejuvenated by the time off with a knee injury. By the way, Ray Allen was said to have suffered a hyperextended elbow at some point in Tuesday's game.
Since Orlando lost at Cleveland, the Celtics still lead the Magic by a half-game for second place in the East, while the Cavs are pulling away for the top seed, now up 5 in the loss column over Boston with 15 games to play.
--Boston coach Doc Rivers was tossed with 29.8 seconds left after getting his second technical foul. It was an odd time for a technical. The teams were coming out of a timeout when referee Bill Kennedy decided to toss Rivers. The Bulls led by 5 at the time and Ben Gordon's free throw made it 125-119.
After the game, Rivers called it the most unprofessional technical he's ever gotten from a referee.
“(Kennedy) stood there and goaded me and goaded me and goaded me and stared at me,” Rivers said. “Look at the film. I actually walked away. He asked me, 'Where do you want the ball?' And I said, 'Ask them,' talking about our players. That's my right to say that, and I walked away. He stood there and stared me down and stared me down and goaded me until I turned around and said, 'What?' That's when I got thrown out of the game.”
--Wednesday's game in Oklahoma City will be a challenge for the Bulls. The Thunder hasn't played since beating San Antonio on Monday and has won four straight home games.
If the Bulls find a way to snap their seven-game road losing streak, they'd have a good chance of pulling within 2 games of seventh-place Detroit. The Pistons play at Houston on Wednesday and were missing both Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace with injuries in Dallas on Tuesday. Detroit also visits the United Center next Tuesday.