Rondo, Celtics down Bulls

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Rondo, Celtics down Bulls

Any game pitting teams coached by close friends Tom Thibodeau and Doc Rivers should be expected to be a barnburner and Monday nights showdown between the Bulls (4-3) vs. Celtics (4-3) was no exception.

After a disappointing initial three quarters, particularly on the defensive end, the Bulls stormed back in the final frame behind the inspired play of Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, as well as the first primetime moment for rookie Marquis Teague, but ultimately fell short in a 101-95 defeat.

After recording his first game since 2003 without a field goal, Carlos Boozer (15 points) was aggressive from the outset, both in the post and shooting his mid-range jumper, helping the Bulls take a slight edge in the early going. On the other end, however, future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett (15 points) was just as assertive, and with All-Star floor general Rajon Rondo (20 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds) running the show, the Celtics quickly overtook their hosts.

While the Bulls also got contributions from the likes of Deng (26 points, 11 rebounds), a strong quarter from Paul Pierce (10 points) and a surprising lack of defensive resistance from the home team allowed the visitors to shoot a gaudy 63.6 percent from the field in the period. At the conclusion of the first quarter, the Bulls trailed, 33-27.

Deng and the Bulls second unit opened the second period, but couldnt chip away at Bostons lead, despite reserve shooting guard Marco Belinelli matching the instant offense of Celtics counterpart Leandro Barbosa. The hosts combined one of their periodic offensive droughts, less-than-stellar defense and sporadic ball-security issues in a recipe that resulted in a double-digit deficit.

Two uncharacteristically loose periods defensively, compounded by the Celtics capitalizing on almost every lapse possible put the Bulls in a hole as halftime approached. At the intermission, the Bulls trailed, 58-46.

After the break, the Bulls inability to deal with Rondos all-around game, ability to penetrate and finish, orchestration of the Celtics offense, and improved outside jumper permitted the visitors to maintain complete control of the game. While Deng and Boozer were still effective, the latters counterpart for Boston, Brandon Bass (16 points), also got his game going, giving the Bulls another headache to deal with.

Boston continued to get quality shot attempts and knock them down, hold a slight edge on the glass and on the other end of the floor, make the Bulls work extremely hard for every bucket they got. Following an improbable three-pointer by rookie power forward Jared Sullinger with 0.7 seconds left in the period, the Bulls trailed, 82-70, after three quarters of play.

At the outset of the final stanza, it appeared that the Bulls would continue their one step forward, two steps back strategy that put them in such a tenuous position to begin with. But a lineup featuring Teague, led by the play of Deng and Noah (17 points, 11 rebounds), quickly brought them back within striking distance, raising the spirits of a previously listless United Center crowd.

Down the stretch, Thibodeau surprisingly stuck with Teague who was as fearless as a 19-year-old facing an All-Star could be and as Deng and Noah took over, making plays on both ends of the floor, but especially carrying the offensive load, the Bulls further narrowed the gap. Deng was fouled with 54 seconds on the clock and shockingly missed both free throws, but after Taj Gibson secured the offensive rebound of his second miss, Deng made a tough layup to bring the score to 95-93, in favor of Boston, with 49.5 seconds remaining.

Out of a timeout, Rivers drew up a brilliant inbounds, resulting in an alley-oop from Rondo to Garnett, again making it a two-possession game with 41.9 seconds to go. Gibson stepped to the line with 40.2 seconds left and missed a pair of attempts at the charity stripe and on the other end, Bass slammed home a dunk to put the game out of reach, though the Bulls valiantly fought until the final buzzer sounded.

Big first period paces Blackhawks over Penguins

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AP

Big first period paces Blackhawks over Penguins

PITTSBURGH – There are certain trends through which the Blackhawks tend to go sometimes. They can be so-so against teams on the bubble or out of the postseason. But face a playoff-bound team and the Blackhawks usually come with a top-notch game.

Exhibit A on that came on Wednesday.

Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane each had two-point nights, and Marian Hossa scored his 25th of the season as the Blackhawks beat the Penguins 5-1 on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks snapped a three-game winless streak and now have a nine-point lead over the Minnesota Wild in the West.

Corey Crawford stopped 31 of 32 shots. Richard Panik scored his 22nd goal of the season. Bryan Rust had the Penguins' lone goal at 5:46 of the third.

The Penguins, much like the Blackhawks, entered this one with 103 points. The Penguins were without several injured players, including Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Trevor Daley. Still, it's the Penguins, and you can never take them lightly.

[Buy Blackhawks tickets right here]

The Blackhawks got the early lead, then really pounced in the final five-plus minutes of the first period. The Blackhawks got stellar set-up passes from Patrick Kane, Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz and finishes to accompany them. Two of their goals (Marcus Kruger and Hossa) came in the final minute of the first period for that 4-0 lead.

The Penguins had the first six shots of the third but the Blackhawks would score on their first of the period when Tanner Kero, taking the turnover from Justin Schultz, finished on a breakaway.

Bastian Schweinsteiger says he is ready for new challenge with the Fire

Bastian Schweinsteiger says he is ready for new challenge with the Fire

As far as first impressions go, Bastian Schweinsteiger made a good one on Wednesday.

The Chicago Fire's new German star smiled at every opportunity, said all the right things about playing hard and wanting to fit in with his new team and even elegantly danced around some 'tricky' questions.

Schweinsteiger opened by thanking fans for showing up to greet him at O'Hare on Tuesday and later said he has plenty left to give on the field.

"I'm 32 years old, I'm ready," Schweinsteiger said. "Of course I need more training sessions to have the right rhythm where I want to see myself. I want to use every minute to feel how it is, how the teammates are playing, which kind of runs they make, which kind of rhythm they have. So to know each other better, that is very important for me step-by-step and I hope you will get results soon because I don't like to lose or to draw."

The German's addition is a big deal to the Fire because he is a big name player who is drawing more attention to the team. That means the Fire will have to win more to capitalize and show the team is deserving of the extra attention.

Despite that extra attention, words of adoration from general manager Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic saying he "can be the icon of the MLS in the future," Schweinsteiger said he is ready for the attention, but does not want to stand apart from his teammates.

"I had a lot of pressure in my career," Schweinsteiger said. "When you play a World Cup final or a Champions League final and the third time you have to win against Borussia Dortmund there is a lot of pressure on your shoulders so I can handle that. I don't want to say I'm a key player of Chicago Fire. Every player on the pitch has to be a key player and has to take the responsibility on the pitch and I would like just to get comfortable with myself and into the team so much as I can."

Talking about the importance of winning and showing humility? Check.

[Watch or listen to Bastian Schweinsteiger's full press conference here]

As for some of those 'tricky' questions, he was able to stay clean there as well. Will you root for the Cubs or Sox?

"First of all I like the Fire the most, of course," Schweinsteiger said.

Well played, Bastian.

But what about this one: Is the World Cup a realistic expectation for the Fire?

Sorry, what was that? Schweinsteiger smiled politely, said he didn't understand the question and avoided getting egg on his face while the Internet exploded in laughter that he was asked about the chances a club team winning an international competition.

Schweinsteiger is the new face of the Fire and that face smiled, waved and shook hands on Wednesday amid all the pageantry.

Media savvy? Check.

As for how he will perform on the field, that's to come soon. Paunovic only gave a subtle hint as to whether Schweinsteiger will play in Saturday's home match against Montreal.

"Obviously he is going to be available," Paunovic said. "We are not going to reveal our plans here, but we still have a talk to have and discuss how he feels and more things about the team and how we want to play. Be ready, just be ready. We'll see."