Coming into their Sunday afternoon road matchup against the Boston Celtics, the Chicago Bulls held an active NBA record with four consecutive road wins by 20+ points -- coming against the Milwaukee Bucks by 23, New Jersey Nets by 21, New Orleans Hornets by 23 and Charlotte Bobcats by 31 points.After 48 minutes in the TD Garden without Derrick Rose (back spasms), the Bulls not only saw their streak end with a 95-91 loss, they also found themselves as a side note in the NBA record books courtesy of Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo.
He scored or assisted on 65 of Boston's 95 points, which is impressive in its own right, but the real story in Rondo's dominating performance is that his 32-point, 15-assist, 10-rebound triple-double was just the 10th game of 30+ points, 15+ assists, and 10+ rebounds since 1985-86, which is as far back as Basketball-Reference game data goes (stat via Beckley Mason).
After getting called out by Doc Rivers with the rest of the team in the wake of an awful loss to the Toronto Raptors on Friday night, Rondo responded by pushing the tempo effectively and consistently making plays in the open court against a Chicago Bulls team that ranked No. 1 overall in defensive efficiency.
With Rondo dictating the pace, Boston outscored Chicago 33-7 in fast break points on the night and did so on a perfect 13-13 shooting on the break.
Rivers had much nicer things to say about the play of his star point guard after the 95-91 win:
"I thought we played at a better pace today. You could see it. We were trying to run. That's how we have to play. If we didn't turn the ball over we would have had far more points. I just liked our pace, and that's all we talked about after the game in Toronto and today in our morning walk-through was enough of the walking."
Aside from setting the tone on offense, Rondo also asserted himself on defense against the Bulls' fill-in point guard, C.J. Watson. While Rondo thrived in the up-tempo action, Watson struggled to keep up. He scored 22 points on a paltry 34.8 percent shooting (8-23), but still did help spark a late fourth quarter run to give Chicago a chance -- an opportunity he ended up squandering on his own. After struggling though the first three quarters and shooting just 5-16 over that span, Watson scored 8 points and dished out an assist during the final 5:06 of the game as the Bulls cut a 14-point Celtics lead to just three with 1:23 remaining.
Then the wheels fell off again, as Watson missed a driving layup with 49.9 seconds left, rushed an errant three-point attempt with 27.6 seconds and missed his second free throw that would have cut the margin back to three points during the Bulls' last best chance with 11.9 seconds on the clock. All the while, Rajon Rondo used the fourth quarter to record four points, three rebounds and six more assists. Sunday will not go down as C.J. Watson's best moment. Meanwhile, Derrick Rose is meeting with a back specialist on Monday and recently told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune that this season is the most he's ever been injured and that he doesn't know what to do. That sound you hear is the collective *gulp* of Bulls fans everywhere.
Outside of the point guard matchup, the rest of the starters for each team were a mixed bag. Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer combined for 38 points on 15-26 shooting, but the Bulls still shot a disturbingly low 20-49 in the paint and only outscored the Celtics 40-38 in that area. Noah scored a quick 10 points in the first quarter, but only added six more for the rest of the game, so he probably pulled out his "finger guns" celebration a bit too early as well. When the Bulls needed Boozer to complete the comeback late in the game, he did not shoot or score in the final two minutes of the game and was nowhere to be found.
As for the Celtics, the traditional "Big Three" of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett only scored 33 points (one more than Rondo) on a combined 12-27 shooting, and backup forward JaJuan Johnson scored more points in the fourth quarter (6) than any member of the Big Three. Johnson and Chris Wilcox performed well while filling in for injured big men Jermaine O'Neal (shoulder) and Brandon Bass (knee).
The loss marked the end of a nine-game road trip for the Bulls, who went 6-3 in their extended travels away from the United Center. A more troubling trend was noted in the game preview on Blog a Bull (which is now updated to include the loss): the Bulls have lost five straight games against playoff caliber teams -- games at Philadelphia, at Miami, vs. Indiana, at Memphis and at Boston -- and are 5-6 overall against teams above .500 in the 2011-12 season. Then again, the Bulls have the best efficiency differential in the entire NBA, so it's way to early to push the panic button.