Bulls 101, Celtics 93

As if there wasn’t enough drama already, the Chicago Bulls’

season took another weird twist and this one involves coach Vinny

Del Negro and executive vice president John Paxson.

It also overshadowed a crucial victory.

On a night when the Bulls boosted their playoff hopes by beating

the Boston Celtics 101-93 behind Derrick Rose’s career-high 39

points, the attention centered on a report that their top executive

pushed their coach during a confrontation following a game last

month.

“I’m not going to comment,” Del Negro said. “I go about my

job everyday no matter what happens. I’m a competitor. I’ve been

involved in the game a long time. I love the challenge of it. All

the other things that happen pretty much stay internally.”

Yahoo! Sports, citing unidentified sources, reported Paxson

shoved Del Negro twice in the chest and had to be restrained in a

dispute after the March 30 home game against Phoenix over how much

Joakim Noah played.

Paxson did not return a call from The AP seeking comment.

“This is an organizational issue, which we will handle

internally,” Bulls spokesman Tim Hallam said.

The “organizational issue” popped up at a time when the Bulls

are trying to secure the eighth and final playoff spot in the

Eastern Conference.

They lead Toronto by a game in the Eastern Conference, thanks to

Rose’s big effort and Kirk Hinrich’s season-high 30 points, and

will reach the postseason with a win at Charlotte on Wednesday or a

loss by the Raptors to New York.

Fourth-place Boston, meanwhile, can forget about catching

Atlanta for the third seed after losing for the sixth time in nine

games.

“I thought we played hard in stretches,” coach Doc Rivers

said. “Rose was spectacular tonight. Him and Hinrich

single-handedly carried the game for them.”

Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 28 points, and Ray Allen scored

25. Kevin Garnett added 14 points and nine rebounds after sitting

out the previous game to rest.

“One game left and we’ve got everyone healthy going into the

playoffs, which was the No. 1 goal of the season,” Pierce

said.

The Bulls took control with a 14-4 run to start the fourth,

giving them an 81-72 lead, and hung on for a crucial victory.

Rose scored 17 in the fourth, and Hinrich added 10, including a

buzzer-beating jumper that made it 95-88 with 43.7 seconds left.

Rose then punctuated it with a breakaway finger roll, opting

against the dunk with the crowd ready to explode, capping another

wild night in a season that’s had it’s share of twists.

There were the early struggles and a lukewarm endorsement from

management, fueling speculation about Del Negro’s job status. The

Bulls recovered, but Noah developed plantar fasciitis in his left

foot, causing him to miss 18 games and ultimately sparking the

altercation that was reported on Tuesday.

According to Yahoo!, the Bulls have hired lawyers to interview

witnesses about the incident.

“This is the NBA and things happen,” Del Negro said. “Whether

it’s in practice or a different situation, things are going to come

out. You handle it. … There’s a lot of emotion involved in this

game with all the things that happen on a daily basis.”

According to Yahoo!, Bulls management wasn’t happy after Noah

played 27 minutes against Portland on Feb. 26. He sat out the next

three weeks and has seen his playing time increase since his

return, yet the issue popped up again during Chicago’s

double-overtime loss to New Jersey.

Noah played just 12 seconds after regulation because, Del Negro

said, he had reached his 35-minute limit. Then general manager Gar

Forman told reporters management had approved playing him beyond

the limit because of the magnitude of the game.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Noah said. “Things happen in

an organization. … I don’t think it’s fair for us as players to

be talking about that stuff. It’s nothing. Really, it’s

nothing.”

NOTES: Rose’s previous best was 37 points. … Celtics backup G

Tony Allen was sick and missed the game. … Coach Doc Rivers

endorsed Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro before the game, saying, “I

think he’s done a very good job.” He pointed out that the Bulls

pushed the Celtics to seven games in the first round of the

playoffs last year, although Boston was missing Kevin Garnett. He

also mentioned that Chicago lost leading scorer Ben Gordon. “I

think expectations, in some ways, were almost unrealistic,” Rivers

said. There is widespread speculation that Del Negro will be gone

after the season.