Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted: 9:52 p.m. Updated: 11:46 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
After a close-knit first half, drama was an afterthought Thursday night at the United Center, as the Bulls cruised to a 97-81 victory over the Celtics in the highly-anticipated, late-season showdown between the two Eastern Conference powers.
A stellar all-around performance by Derrick Rose and stout defense led the way for Chicago (58-20), which reduced its magic number to clinch home-court advantage in the East to just one game.
It was one of our better games. I thought we played hard, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. It was a hard-fought game, but thats what we anticipated. Theyre a tough team, theyre a physical team.
We were attacking on both ends. Usually, when you hear attack, people think offense. But I think you have to attack both ways, continued the coach, whose team doubled Boston, 44-24, in points in the paint. Offensively, weve been pretty good for about 10 games now, but defensively, weve been sporadic.
Tonight was more of a complete game for us.
Concurred Joakim Noah: This is exactly what we needed. This puts us one step closer to where we want to be and this is just a big win. Great atmosphere in here tonight and it always feels great to beat Boston.
WATCH: Noah thinks Bulls can play even better
This was definitely a playoff-type atmosphere. I know Boston, they played hard as hell. We did, too. Got the job done, he added. We just turned it up a notch.
Boston (54-24) started the game by hitting its first four shots from the field, putting the Bulls on their heels with solid execution and prompting a timeout from Thibodeau. Chicago immediately countered with a 7-0 run with a balanced offensive attack, featuring all five Bulls starters getting on the board.
All indications early on were that the game would be a defensive struggle, so timely scoring contributions from the likes of Keith Bogans the much-maligned starting shooting guard hit two three-pointers in the opening period were more important than usual.
Tight officiating forced forwards Luol Deng (23 points, six rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (14 points, 12 rebounds) to the bench with two fouls apiece, and forcing Thibodeau to alter his rotation.
But when Celtics leading scorer Paul Pierce (15 points) picked up his second foul followed by a technical for arguing the call it appeared to ignite the Bulls, who built a brief double-digit lead, capped by Roses (30 points, eight assists) crowd-pleasing drive past All-Star point guard counterpart Rajon Rondo and subsequent circus layup finish. At the conclusion of the first quarter, the Bulls led, 26-18.
Nothing came easy for either team at the outset of the second, as the two stifling defenses forced contested looks. Celtics reserve forward Jeff Green and guard Delonte West were offensive catalysts for the visitors second unit, using their versatility to create matchup problems and provide scoring opportunities for themselves and their teammates.
Thibodeau filtered his regulars back into the contest and upon his reentry, Rose took it upon himself to carry the scoring load, resuming his offensive aggressiveness from the first quarter by getting into the lane and finishing at the rim or with finesse floaters. Having established himself as a scorer, the unselfish playmaker went into facilitator mode in an attempt to get his teammates in the offensive groove.
WATCH: Rose finds attacking Celtics easier without Perkins
Meanwhile, the Bulls defensive game plan to force Rondo into becoming a shooter was effective the gifted floor general was scoreless in the first half but the All-Star forward duo of veterans Kevin Garnett and Pierce, forced to manufacture their own offense, picked up the slack for Boston. Still, the Bulls held a 48-43 advantage at the break.
After the intermission when a bust of Scottie Pippen was unveiled inside the United Center a refocused Celtics team got back into the contest quickly, as Rondo utilized his speed to get to the basket and lead a Boston run that gave the visitors a brief 49-48 advantage.
Chicago countered with a spurt of its own, capped by a Deng fast-break dunk over Pierce that gave them a slight cushion midway through the third quarter.
Luol was tremendous in the second half, praised Thibodeau. He came out, he played great and he played with fouls. He came up with a lot of big plays.
Rose chimed in: This year, hes got my MVP vote. Hes been the most consistent this year.
Poor Bulls defensive transition, however, allowed Boston to get back into the contest, with Rondo leading the Celtics fast-break opportunities to get easy baskets and keep pressure on the Bulls, much to Thibodeaus displeasure.
But the Bulls increased their level of urgency, as varied scoring from Deng and blue-collar inside play from Boozer helped the home team increase its edge. Following a Rose 3-pointer on Chicago s final possession of the third, the Bulls led, 71-60.
Thibodeau kept starters Rose, Deng and Boozer in the game to start the final stanza and the move paid off, as Boozer, in particular, continued to have the hot hand, aiding the Bulls in increasing their double-digit lead.
From the moment the ball got tipped up to the end of the game, we shared the ball offensively, but more importantly, our defense was back, Boozer observed. We struggled on defense the last three or four games and tonight, you saw our Bulls defense and we needed it. The way we played the first half set the tone for the second half.
Bostons frustration and the games overall physicality manifested itself early in the period, when veteran Kurt Thomas and Celtics sixth man Glen Davis the powerful pair had been getting chippy since they were first matched up in the contest got tangled up, with Davis earning a loose-ball foul for pulling down (and falling on top of) Thomas, and Thomas receiving a technical for his subsequent gestures toward Davis.
Soon afterwards, both teams hit a scoring drought much more costly for Boston, as the Bulls had plenty of breathing room midway through the quarter, and when Rose knocked down a triple from the wing to put Chicago up 17 points, the uphill battle for Boston became that much more formidable as the games stretch run approached.
We finally played defense toward the end of the game. I think we stepped it up, guys made an extra effort to contest everybodys shot and when were rolling like this, were pretty hard to beat, said Rose. Were not worried about clinching or anything. Were just trying to get better every game.
We know that we could meet them, so when we came out, we wanted to play hard, play aggressive on both ends and move the ball because theyre a good defensive team, and make it tough on them the whole night, he continued. Usually, theyre a great defensive team, but tonight, they just had trouble with it.
The Bulls didnt look back and now stand on the brink of earning home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.