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Bulls have no answer for Rondo in loss to Celtics

By K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — During a 2009 playoff game, Rajon Rondo threw Kirk Hinrich into a United Center scorer’s table.

What he did to the Bulls on Monday night hurt more.

The All-Star point guard sliced and diced his way to 20 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds and five steals in a 101-95 Celtics’ victory that ended the Bulls’ season-high, five-game homestand at a disappointing 2-3. Rondo’s alley-oop to Kevin Garnett for a dunk with 41.9 seconds remaining placed the period on the Bulls’ failed comeback.

The Bulls begin a five-game trip Wednesday in Phoenix. They’d better pack their defense.

With Derrick Rose out, the Bulls knew offense would be an issue many times this season. Defense and rebounding were supposed to carry the day.

But with Hinrich sitting with a strained right hamstring and gluteus, the Bulls allowed 50.6 percent shooting and were outmatched through the first three quarters before a late rally that ultimately faded. The Celtics became the first regular-season opponent to crack the century mark in 16 games dating to last season.

“If you come into a game against a quality team like that and think you can trade baskets, you’re not going to be successful,” coach Tom Thibodeau said.

Asked what the difference was in the fourth quarter, Thibodeau said: “We tried.”

Rondo’s dominance led all five starters in double figures, including Garnett, who scored 15 points and passed Allen Iverson for 17th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers must not have recognized the defensive effort given that Thibodeau served as his defensive architect en route to Boston winning the 2008 title. The Bulls allowed 55.7 percent shooting through three quarters and trailed by 12 before awakening in the fourth.

Joakim Noah dominated during a 10-0 run with Marquis Teague, Luol Deng, Marco Belinelli and Taj Gibson on the floor. He scored six points, harassed Garnett into an air ball and seemingly chased down every loose ball.

But trailing 87-84, the Bulls failed on six straight possessions to pull closer, including an air-balled 3-point try by Deng. Jason Terry, who finished with 13, then buried a jumper to hush the United Center crowd.

A final surge featured Deng, who led the Bulls with 26, scoring with 49.5 seconds left after Taj Gibson rebounded the second of Deng’s two missed free throws to make it 95-93. That’s when Rondo worked his aerial assist magic to Garnett.

“We covered that play in the pregame,” Thibodeau said. “They’re good at it. We got hung up a little bit. You have to know what’s coming. You have to read it.”

Carlos Boozer rebounded from his first game without a field goal in nine years by scoring 15 points. But he sat the entire fourth quarter again as Thibodeau went with a smaller, trapping defensive lineup. Nate Robinson, who had started for Hinrich, also sat as Thibodeau went with the rookie Teague.

“I liked the way he matched up with his speed,” Thibodeau said.

That’s about all that was fast about the Bulls.

“We have to play a lot harder than that,” Thibodeau said.

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