Celtics 106, Bulls 80

Paul Pierce insisted the Boston Celtics have their flaws, no

matter how hard they are to find these days. Their latest showing

was one of their best yet.

Rajon Rondo had 16 points and 14 assists, and the Celtics won

their 10th straight, beating the struggling Chicago Bulls 106-80 on

Saturday.

“We’re nowhere near a perfect team,” Pierce said. “We’re

still trying to build, trying to get better.

“Definitely, it’s one of our better games.”

Rasheed Wallace and Eddie House scored 15 apiece. Kevin Garnett

added 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Pierce scored 14 even though

he sustained a stinger on his right shoulder and hit just 4 of 12

shots.

Boston scored 10 straight late in the third quarter, making it a

20-point game and sending the Bulls to their 10th loss in 12

games.

Derrick Rose scored 19 for Chicago. Luol Deng added 17 but

missed 4 of 6 free throws late in the third quarter, and the Bulls

capped a particularly brutal seven-day stretch with another blowout

loss. They were routed by Toronto and Atlanta and fell to New

Jersey in between, and after an overtime win over Golden State on

Friday, they watched Boston run away with this one in the second

half.

Chicago went the final 6:18 of the third quarter without a field

goal and shot 32.6 percent overall. With a 71-61 lead, Pierce hit

two free throws to start a 10-0 run that Garnett capped with an

alley-oop layup from Rondo with 1:26 left in the quarter.

“We just didn’t have anyone step up at that time,” Rose

said.

The Bulls hardly resemble the team that pushed Boston to seven

games before losing a thrilling first-round playoff series last

season, albeit with Garnett sidelined by an injured right knee.

Rose and Joakim Noah have questioned the team’s effort and the

pressure on coach Vinny Del Negro is mounting.

“We just have to keep playing hard,” Deng said. “I don’t know

what else to tell you.”

The Celtics, who blew out the Bulls in October, look more like

the team that won the championship than the one that struggled to

get by Chicago last season, settling in after a volatile start.

Things got testy about 3 1/2 minutes into the game when Miller

basically clotheslined a driving Rondo, who gave him a bloody mouth

in the playoffs. That delighted the crowd, even if it resulted in a

flagrant foul.

Rondo said he expected some retribution from Miller, considering

his hard foul late in Game 5 of the playoffs left him with a bloody

mouth.

“I think he tried to go for my face, but he hit me in my nose a

bit as well,” Rondo said.

Miller said “it’s not really payback, but everybody knows what

happened.” He said it was more about a center refusing to let a

guard go in for a layup, adding, “You’ve got to win that

battle.”

While Pierce said Miller’s not a dirty player, Ray Allen

“thought it was excessive.”

Rondo, meanwhile, said the blow “didn’t hurt” and he’s “been

hit way harder.”

“I’m not going to get intimidated by it,” he said. “The next

time we play, I’m going to drive whether it’s him, whether it’s

Noah or anybody. It can be Shaq, I’m still going to drive. That’s

what I do.”

NOTES: Boston has not lost since falling 83-78 to Orlando on

Nov. 20. … The Celtics went from losing a club-record 18 in a row

in 2006-07 to winning the championship next year, so it’s no

surprise that coach Doc Rivers endorsed Del Negro. “Listen, I

believe this will work out for him,” Rivers said. “I know what he

can do. I coached against him last year in the playoffs, and I just

hope he gets a chance to do it.” For Rivers, it helped that the

Celtics landed Garnett and Allen before their championship season.

The Bulls have been hit by injuries and lackadaisical play overall.

… Rondo was having a little fun at his coach’s expense after

Kentucky, his school, beat Indiana on Saturday. Rivers’ son

Jeremiah plays for the Hoosiers. “I can’t even tell you how hard

Rondo’s been the last three hours,” Doc Rivers said. “That’s all

right. I control the minutes.” … The Bulls go from hosting the

Eastern Conference leader to the Western Conference leader when the

Los Angeles Lakers visit on Tuesday.