DEERFIELD, Ill.(AP) Aches and pains aside, the Boston Celtics couldn't hide their smiles after pounding the Chicago Bulls.
Finally, the defending champions looked like themselves. And now, they're in control of this first-round series.
A 107-86 romp on Thursday gave them a 2-1 lead, and they can really tighten their grip by winning Game 4 in Chicago on Sunday.
"When we play Celtic basketball, it's hard to beat us,'' forward Glen Davis said.
Not that the Bulls really needed a reminder. They knew they were in an uphill fight even with Kevin Garnett sidelined by a knee injury, and the Celtics landed a big blow in Game 3. On Friday, the Bulls were trying to shake it off.
"I'm sure everybody has a really bitter taste in their mouth right now,'' Chicago's Ben Gordon said. "It's important that we come out and respond. I feel those kinds of losses this year we've done a good job of coming out and shaking that one off.''
This one could leave a mark, though.
The Celtics outshot the Bulls 48.1 percent to 37.5 percent, hitting 12 of 21 3-pointers. They got 16 steals while collecting 22 turnovers.
They got 24 points from Paul Pierce after two quiet games and another outstanding effort from Rajon Rondo, who scored 20 and grabbed 11 rebounds before being helped to the locker room after the game. He said the right ankle he sprained in Game 2 was fine, that his foot was bothering him but he'll be ready Sunday.
Ray Allen added 18 points after scoring 30 in the previous game, and "Big Baby'' Davis put in a grown-up effort - 14 points, nine rebounds and six steals.
And now, the Celtics are in command.
"For two days, we heard we couldn't play defense,'' said coach Doc Rivers, who gave his team the day off on Friday.
Anyone who followed them knew they could.
The Celtics held opponents to 43.1 percent shooting, tying Cleveland for the league low, during the regular season. And after allowing the Bulls to score at least 103 points in the first two games, they set the tone on both ends while cruising to an easy win.
"It's discouraging,'' Gordon said Friday. "Disappointing. It's not shocking, though. They're the defending world champs. They beat the Lakers last year by 39 points one of those games, so they're definitely capable of doing that.''
Not that it made the video any easier to watch.
"We were really taking note of some of the mistakes we made,'' Gordon said.
Were there jitters?
"Honestly, I really don't know what it was,'' Gordon said.
The only thing he does know is it was ugly.
The poise the Bulls showed while splitting the first two games in Boston disappeared as soon as they stepped on their court.
Inexperience might be to blame.
Starters Derrick Rose, John Salmons, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah all have limited or no playoff experience.
The games get harder as the series progresses, and Gordon said there's really no way to prepare for that.
"That was probably a big part of the way we played last night,'' he said. "Guys have got to understand that there are going to be adjustments made, especially by a team like the Celtics so we have to be ready to make the second or third efforts.''
They didn't, though.
"Everybody wanted to do the right things, but there are no nine-point plays or 10-point plays,'' Noah said.
Yet, the Bulls looked like they were going for them after Boston grabbed the early lead. Chicago trailed 32-21 after the first quarter thanks to nine turnovers and Pierce's 13 points and never threatened after that.
The Bulls couldn't defend, couldn't hang onto the ball and couldn't shoot. No way, then, were they going to rally.
Were they intimidated?
"Who's intimidated? Who's intimidated?'' Noah asked. "They play physical, but who's intimidated? Because they won by a lot of points, we're intimidated? I don't feel like we've been intimidated by them at all.''
Did the first two games give them a false sense of security?
"That's definitely a possibility with younger guys who haven't been in the playoffs,'' Gordon said. "These next few days are about getting our edge back and playing like we did on the road.''
And the Celtics are bracing for that.
"They're going to come out strong in Game 4 because if they lose, we'll really have them in position,'' Pierce said.