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The Celtics struggled to find their offensive rhythm against the Chicago Bulls as they fell 97-81 Thursday night at the United Center.
Derrick Rose stole the show once again for the Bulls, whose magic number is now one game to clinch the top spot in the East. Rose scored 30 points on 9-16 shooting and added eight assists in a performance that most showed why many have named Rose the MVP.
With the win, the Bulls are now four games up on Boston and Miami with four to play and have guaranteed the Heat could not get the No. 1 seed.
Rajon Rondo once again struggled to stop Derrick Rose, as Rose was able to get to the rim with ease. Rose scored 16 points in the first half as Chicago jumped out to 48-43 lead at halftime.
A Paul Pierce jumper and back-to-back baskets by Rondo gave the Celtics a 49-48 lead early in the third. But, the Bulls quickly responded by going on a 10-0 run.
With just over three minuets to go, Glen Davis hit a pair of free throws to bring the Celtics within three, 61-58. That would be the closest the Celtics would get for the rest of the night as the Bulls went on a 13-2 run that stretched into the fourth quarter.
The Celtics lost this game in the paint, plain and simple. Chicago outscored the Celtics 44-22 in the paint. The Bulls also outrebounded the Celtics 44-35 and held Boston to 38.4 percent from the field and 20 percent from three.
3. Paul Pierce: Pierce nudges out Boozer for this spot. Pierce led the Celtics with 15 points and also had four rebounds. He went 6-13 from the field, but went just 1-5 from three.
2. Luol Deng: Deng started the game by missing his first four shots, but that did not stop him from scoring 23 points. Deng added six rebounds and despite his slow start, Deng still shot 50 percent from the floor, going 9-18.
1. Derrick Rose: Rose put his stamp on the MVP race after Thursday night’s performance. He finished with a game high 30 points on 9-16 shooting and also dished out eight assists.
The Celtics return to the Garden on Friday night when they play host to the Washington Wizards. The teams have split their previous two meetings this season.