The Bulls played host to the Boston Celtics for the first time since their epic Game 6 of last postseason Saturday night, but much had changed in the past eight months.
Forward Rasheed Wallace signed with the Celtics last summer, while Bulls top gun Ben Gordon bolted to the Detroit Pistons, the team that Wallace departed days later. And Bulls forward Luol Deng and Celtics counterpart Kevin Garnett were healthy and in the lineup again.
“Different teams, different years,” Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Different players are here, different players are there. Totally different circumstance. Last year was last year.”
This much also was different: The Celtics with Garnett are a far better team than they were last spring, and it was evident in a 106-80 blowout in front of a sellout crowd at the United Center.
Garnett scored 12 points and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds, but his presence went beyond rather modest numbers.
“Everything is predicated off Kevin,” Del Negro said. “I mean, he clogs the middle, gets everyone going and brings great energy. He’s a future Hall of Famer. Add him to the lineup and you got to be better.”
Garnett did not speak to reporters after the game.
It didn’t help the Bulls’ cause that Derrick Rose (19 points, three assists) played with a sore rib and that backcourt partner Kirk Hinrich (two points) had inflammation in his right elbow in addition to a sprained left thumb. Or that several players logged heavy minutes in a 96-91 overtime victory against the Golden State Wariors the night before.
Nonetheless, the latest setback did little to quiet whispers about the future of Del Negro.
His team lost 10 of its past 12 games.
“We got down on ourselves when they hit some shots,” said center Joakim Noah, who contributed a game-high 13 rebounds. “We just got to stick together as a group and deal with adversity a little bit better. But we’re not even close to being as good as they are right now.”
The Bulls continued to play like a team that missed Gordon more than they cared to admit. They connected on just 1 of 9 tries from beyond the three-point line.
“A three-point shooter definitely spreads the court and opens the lane more,” forward John Salmons said. “But if you don’t have one, you can’t worry about it.”
Guard Rajon Rondo scored 16 points to lead the Celtics.
He also dished out a game-high 14 assists.