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Rob Peterson


Celtics get defensive to steal homecourt, momentum

By Rob Peterson,
Posted Apr 25 2009 12:14PM

CHICAGO -- After Boston's Thursday morning shootaround, someone asked Rajon Rondo if the Celtics can win a series by giving up 110 points a game.

Rondo broke into a wide smile and said, "Maybe."

Then, the Celtics' dynamic point guard explained.

"We haven't done it in the past year, but maybe it's a new thing," Rondo said. "It's definitely not what we expected coming into the series, but you have to roll with what you got. We're giving up 100-some-odd points.

"You have to come up with a stop somehow, some way."

On Thursday, the Celtics got plenty of stops. In holding the Chicago Bulls to .375 shooting, the Celtics put on a championship-caliber defensive performance in a 107-86 whipping of Chicago at United Center. The first-round series now stands at 2-1 in favor of the defending champs.

"For two days I heard we couldn't play defense," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "And our guys came out and played well tonight and I thought it was terrific.

"[The Bulls] missed some shots tonight, too. I thought we did a good job of getting back."

The Celtics did a good job of everything Thursday, specifically on the defensive end. By completely shutting down anything the Bulls wanted to do in Game 3, the Celtics stole back the home-court advantage Chicago took after its Game 1 win.

As a matter of fact, the Celtics stole everything that wasn't nailed down. They tallied 16 steals, including five by Rondo -- who now has a 2009 Playoffs-high 12 in three games -- and six by forward Glen Davis. In addition to getting homecourt back, the Celtics also stole any momentum the Bulls had.

"Not the home game we would have liked," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We started out poor. We were tentative, very nervous. We missed a lot of free throws and our ball movement was terrible."

That just about covers the Bulls' night.

It was a stinker that even thousands of rose petals -- in honor of Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose -- sprinkled throughout the lower bowl of the United Center couldn't pretty up.

The Bulls as a whole came out as flat. They shot 32.4 percent in the first half and tossed away 14 turnovers, which is what the Bulls averaged during the regular season. Down by 22 going into the break, Chicago never recovered.

The Celtics, meanwhile, used Chicago's carelessness to their advantage as they turned those 14 first-half turnovers into 18 points. When the Celtics weren't scoring in transition, they were killing the Bulls in a variety of way from their offensive sets.

All-Star Paul Pierce got himself on track early, hitting seven of his first nine shots en route to 18 first-half points.

"In Games 1 and 2, I was a little indecisive," Pierce said, "but I'm getting comfortable with what [the Bulls] do. I think what we did to come out collectively really set the tone."

After knocking the Bulls to the deck with their defense, the Celtics' balance on offense -- led by Pierce -- kept Chicago down for the count.

Four Celtics starters took at least 12 shots and Pierce's efficient effectiveness gave the Celtics a ton of options on offense.

Midway through the second quarter, the Bulls started double-teaming Pierce at the top of the key, sending a big man at him. But Pierce was often able to find a teammate unguarded in the lane or on the wing, and when the Celtics started moving the ball, the Bulls were in serious trouble.

"That's when we're tough," Celtics forward Glen Davis said. "When we make the extra pass, setting screens and getting our main guys open, that opened the floodgates for everybody."

And the points kept pouring in. Rondo continued his stellar play with 20 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals. No player in this series has been as good as Rondo, who is one rebound shy of averaging a triple-double for the series: 22.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 9.7 assists.

"Last year, everyone said there's no way we'll do it with a point guard who can't shoot from the outside, and we proved them wrong," Rivers said.

Rondo wasn't the only effective Celtics point guard. Stephon Marbury got into the act with 13 points and five assists, many of which came off dribble penetration.

And then there was Davis, who was a beast on both ends of the floor. Kevin Garnett's replacement had his best game of the series with a stat line that needs to be seen to be believed: 14 points, nine rebounds, six assists, six steals and three blocks.

"We hadn't played Celtics basketball," Davis said of the first two games. "We didn't play the way we knew we could play. We were real focused in shootaround this morning and made sure we had our assignments and do what we had to do to win."

That focus was missing for the first six-plus quarters of this series for the Celtics. They have it now and there may not be much the Bulls can do about it.

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