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Bulls at Boston Celtics: Bulls stay close, but Rondo's conveniently-timed revenge seizes game

The biggest news of Sunday occurred in the morning, when not only was Derrick Rose ruled out of the game but it came with a fairly worrying prognosis:

"[It's been going on for a] couple of games...It was the whole trip, but I just played through it. The more I played through it, it tended to get worse after every game. At the time, I was really worried about it, but just tried to stay positive and hopefully I'll be all right. I don't know the diagnosis. I don't know what to call it, but I just know my back is not right, I don't remember [when it started]. It just came from out of nowhere, man. That's the scary thing about it."

Rose will see a specialist Monday when the Bulls return to Chicago, but wouldn't speculate on whether he'd play in the team's next game, Tuesday against Sacramento at the United Center.

There's much more at the link, including some bullcrap from Thibs, who's Belichick-ian when it comes to injuries, which is fine though annoying. Tough to say if...who am I kidding, it's easy to say! Rose shouldn't have played in New Orleans on Tuesday. Organizational failure from Derrick himself on up.

In his absence, the Bulls encountered their first deficit in over a week of feasting on delicious cupcakes, and stayed behind throughout. Though shooting awfully, they were never out of today's game as Boston couldn't put them away, but the Celtics were in control the entire game so it's hard to even see much of a moral victory. As the Bulls stayed close yet the time wound down, it was apparent that without Rose they just don't have a playmaker to be reliable in set possessions, only scoring when they would trap the Celtics into a turnover, or when they could pound the offensive glass.

There were facets of the game, like that frontcourt advantage, where the Bulls did look good . The Celtics were without Jermaine O'Neal and Brandon Bass which shuffled up some inexperienced members in their frontcourt rotation, and the Bulls bigs were able to feast. Both Boozer and Noah provided efficient offense over the course of the game, going 15-26 with a lack of Boston shotblocking (outside of some turn-back-the-clock moments from Garnett). That made it even more frustrating to see backups Taj Gibson and Omer Asik routinely blowing layups that proved costly. Oftentimes the Bulls would be the ones earning the loose balls, and unable to convert.

The Celtics bigs did manage to out-run their Bulls counterparts, and as a team the C's finished with a 33-7 edge in fast break points. It was on times of not getting back, or failure to stop the ball when back, that earned Carlos Boozer yet another tongue-lashing at the hands of an announcing crew. Jeff Van Gundy emphasized the issues with Boozer not making the right rotations being one of trust from his teammates and coach. Given how close he is with Tom Thibodeau, I wonder if JVG was acting as a surrogate, providing the analysis that Thibs himself can't do to his own player.

As mentioned, Boozer was ably qualified to take advantage when he had the mismatch advantage, which was a welcome sign, as is Noah's apparently fully-fledged return to past performance this season. But as also mentioned above, when the Bulls needed baskets late and the defense concentrated on him, Boozer wasn't good enough to be that go-to option, and two straight turnovers led to two Rondo lobs which effectively put the Bulls away for good. They did get another chance down 3 with just over a shot-clock to go, but it was CJ Watson's turn to ruin the possession forcing a wild long-two.

It was a fitting end for CJ's day, spent shooting awfully and dominated by Rondo, who wound up with a triple-double. BaB enemy #1 was on fire today, commanding the fast break, hitting a few jumpers and a majority of his free throws, getting his assist-padding confused for unselfishness, tugging on Luol Deng's bad wrist near the end of the game...and to be honest he did look to be more of the All-Star than Deng. Like Watson and Boozer, Luol (who did have the wrist wrapped more than before) had his chances to score in the half-court and couldn't do so, not even making a shot until midway through the 3rd quarter.

We know that offensively, the whole team exists and operates as satellites around Derrick Rose, so it's tough to expect them to transcend their usual roles in his absence. But watching it, it follows to wonder what will they be like when Rose is in the game but effectively mitigated by a tough playoff defense. Sure, he's commanding attention, but the other Bulls still need to execute to make things not end like last year.

Of course, both time-wise and team-wise, it's a long way until the playoffs. Sunday's game was the end of an unheard-of 9-game road trip, they were missing their MVP and their free agent difference (though it's been so long he may as well be myth), and they still played hard and looked defensively stout and deep. That's not changing. But the Bulls need to get Rose right, and learn to live with this potentially new less-consistent version of Deng, before we can see if there is indeed a difference this year. The Bulls schedule gets much less dense and road-laden from here on out, and so far they've not only survived it but have the best record in the conference. It's a great story and an accomplishment. But now it'll probably be the rest of the way that's more about survival.