There were a few positives to be found on Saturday at the United Center, even though the Bulls lost for the 10th time in their last 12 games.
For one, they didn't lose by 30 points, which happened twice already in the previous seven days. The Bulls hung with Boston until the midpoint of the third quarter - which has been their habit lately against good teams - and lost 106-80.
The Bulls (8-14) also shot a season-low 32.6 percent from the field and failed to break 90 points for the 10th time this season.
"It is our fourth game in five days, so maybe we got a little bit tired," said Luol Deng, who played 52 minutes in Friday's win over Golden State. "I thought we played hard."
The fans got a kick out of Brad Miller's flagrant foul against Boston guard Rajon Rondo at the 8:32 mark of the first quarter. Rondo barreled down the lane and Miller was the last line of defense, so he stuck out his arm and caught Rondo around the neck.
Maybe that could be considered payback for the play at the end of Game 5 in Boston last spring when Rondo smacked Miller in the mouth to prevent a game-tying layup, but was given only a personal foul and the Celtics finished the win when Miller missed his first free throw.
The cheers of the sellout crowd grew louder when Rondo stayed on the ground for about 30 seconds. After the game, he shrugged off the play as no big deal.
"It was actually softer than I expected," Rondo said. "I knew I was going to get hit, going back to what happened last year. I think he tried to go for my face. He hit my nose a little bit. I've been hit harder."
The Miller-on-Rondo foul was good for entertainment value, but the defining moment of this blowout happened early in the third quarter.
With the Bulls trailing by 6 points, Deng picked off a pass and headed for the hoop on a fast break. Just before he was about to meet Paul Pierce in the lane, Deng fumbled the ball out of bounds for a turnover. On the other end, Ray Allen buried a 3-pointer to stretch Boston's lead to 9.
It got worse. Bulls guard John Salmons threw up a brick, then Rondo was granted an unopposed path to the basket when Derrick Rose was screened by Pierce and Deng never made a move to switch. By the end of the third quarter, the Bulls trailed by 20.
"I think right now, we're not even close to being as good as they are," Joakim Noah said. "It's a completely different team than last year."
While winning their 10th straight game, none of the Celtics hurt the Bulls all that badly. The regulars simply showed up and played their game. They'd jog through the offense and still get open looks; swipe once at the ball to create a successful defensive stop.
Rondo was his usual self, finishing with 16 points and 14 assists. Rasheed Wallace (15 points) actually spent time playing near the basket on offense, something he hasn't done regularly since playing for the Washington Bullets about 13 years ago.
Rose led the Bulls with 19 points, but collected just 3 assists. Deng added 17 while hitting just 5 of 16 shots from the field. Once again, the offense sputtered while the Bulls couldn't knock down a 3-pointer until the 8:03 mark of the fourth quarter, shortly after Jannero Pargo checked in for the first time.
Mike McGraw's game tracker
Celtics 106, Bulls 80
Familiar script: Run out of gas in the third quarter, check. Shoot a season-low 32.6 percent from the field and fail to crack 90 points, check. No 3-point baskets until the fourth quarter, check. Lose for the 10th time in 12 games, check. The Bulls are stuck in a deep rut right now and playing the Celtics is no way to bust out.
Rondo revenge: One highlight for Bulls fans was Brad Miller corralling Celtics guard Rajon Rondo by the neck and earning a flagrant foul in the first quarter. It was a rematch of the foul that helped decide Game 5 of the playoffs last spring, when Rondo smacked Miller in the mouth.
Don't check the schedule: Next up for the Bulls is a visit from the defending champion Lakers on Tuesday. Can anything good happen for the home team?