BOSTON - Derrick Rose wasn't in uniform Sunday, and that was enough to allow the Boston Celtics to hang on for a narrow victory against the recently surging Chicago Bulls, 95-91, at TD Garden in Boston, MA.
Rose's production was sorely missed on both ends of the court. C.J. Watson, who started in place of Rose, filled in admirably, but he didn't have the same type of impact that Rose, the league's reigning MVP, would have had.
Rajon Rondo took advantage of that fact, and he lit up the Bulls on the offensive end. Rondo finished with a triple-double, amassing 32 points on 11-of-22 shooting to go along with 15 assists and 10 rebounds to lead Boston, which shot 49 percent from the field.
"Rondo's a great player," said Tom Thibodeau, head coach of the Bulls and former Celtics assistant. "Even if you are defending him well, he still has the ability to make great plays and that team is very experienced and I think they're playing at a very high level."
Kevin Garnett continued his streak of impactful games, netting 13 points and 12 rebounds. Paul Pierce, the Celtics' leading scorer on the season, was held to nine points on the afternoon. Ray Allen added three points in the win for Boston. JaJuan Johnson provided the C's with a nice boost off the bench, totaling 12 points and four rebounds.
Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah provided the offense for Chicago, which was held to 38.6 percent shooting. Boozer finished with 22 points and seven rebounds while Noah, usually a pest for the Celtics, had 16 points and nine boards. Watson totaled 22 points and seven rebounds, but didn't have an assist in the defeat.
Rondo led an early surge for the Celtics, scoring 16 points in the first half to put his team up by five, 48-43, at the break. Boston built it's lead up to 11 points midway through the first quarter, 18-7, but Chicago closed the gap and trailed by five points, 28-23, through 12 minutes. Both teams scored 20 points in the second, giving the C's their five-point edge.
"I knew they would come out like that, coming off their last two games," Thibodeau said. "They were very aggressive. I thought they got some easy baskets early, which gave them confidence."
The dominant performance continued in the third for Rondo, who brought his scoring total up to 28 points. Chicago wouldn't go away, though, putting up 23 points in the quarter to effectively counter the Celtics' 24 in the period.
After a stretch of 2:19 without a point early in the fourth, the Celtics mixed up the lineup and got a spark from Allen, who hit two timely baskets to give Boston a 77-68 lead with eight and a half minutes remaining. Johnson's putback and a three from Pierce gave the Celtics another 11-point lead with just under eight minutes to play. Rondo put the cap on his triple-double in the closing minutes and led Boston to a win with four clutch free throws late.
"When you have Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin and Rondo running the team, you know, and their bench I think is playing very well and they are getting contributions from a number of different people so they're going to be a dangerous team," said Thibodeau.
The Celtics will have a couple of days to recuperate, as they will not play again until Wednesday night, when they host the lowly Detroit Pistons at TD Garden.