As he makes a pass, the Bulls' Kirk Hinrich runs into the Celtics' Kevin Garnett.
Ed Lee | Staff Photographer
The Bulls are playing out the string, their playoff hopes just about over. The Boston Celtics are coasting to the finish, with the best record in the NBA nearly secure.
So while the Bulls tried to show some fight against the NBA's best, the Celtics basically airmailed this one in.
Boston knocked down 10 of their first 12 shots from 3-point range to keep the Bulls at bay and cruised to a 106-92 victory Tuesday night at the United Center.
The loss dropped the Bulls 5 games behind Atlanta for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. With eight games left, it's just a matter of time before elimination is official.
"I can't fault the effort the guys made," Bulls coach Jim Boylan said. "I thought that showed a lot about their character.
"We're going to play that way all the way through the rest of the season. I think we have guys in the locker room that care about the game and respect the game, and that's what they're going to do."
The only moment that seemed to cause the Celtics (59-15) any alarm was when two T-shirts designed to be tossed into the crowd landed near Boston's James Posey as a timeout began with 2:47 remaining.
While Posey held on to the T-shirts as evidence, P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell voiced their concerns to referee Tony Brothers, who then walked to center court and briefly questioned Benny the Bull, who appeared to claim innocence. In the end, no technical fouls were handed down.
The main highlight for the Bulls was forward Tyrus Thomas providing more fuel to those who question why he doesn't play consistent minutes. Thomas scored a game-high 24 points, starting his second straight game in place of Drew Gooden, who is out with a lower abdominal strain.
"He did a lot of good things," Boylan said of Thomas. "He was talkative in the huddles, positive with his teammates. I was very happy with the way he played tonight.
"But that's tonight. Now he's got to do it again Thursday in Cleveland and do it again Saturday against Washington. That's what being an NBA player is. I hope he knows consistency is the key for him."
When asked about his strong performance, Thomas gave cliché answers about team goals.
"Right now we're just coming out and playing hard and worrying about making the playoffs," he said. "That's my main focus."
The Bulls (29-45) were far more competitive against the Celtics than they had been in the last two meetings, both 20-something losses on the road. The 14-point final margin was the largest of the game.
But trailing by 6 points heading into the fourth quarter, the Bulls never got any closer, either. Whenever the game got tight, the Bulls usually lost one of Boston's best shooters at the 3-point line.
Ray Allen hit 5 of 7 attempts from long range and led the Celtics with 22 points. Paul Pierce buried 4 of 5 from 3-point land and scored 17. Kevin Garnett added 20 points and 4 blocks.
Andres Nocioni added 19 points for the Bulls. Ben Gordon had a hot hand from 3-point range but didn't play much after picking up 5 fouls in 16 minutes. Larry Hughes (0-for-6, 2 points) couldn't get anything going.