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Chicago Bulls will face Boston Celtics in playoffs
The ugly performance on the court gave way to a surreal scene off it Wednesday night at the United Center.
First the Bulls performed listlessly and dismally as a seven-game home winning streak crashed and burned in a 109-98 season-ending loss to Toronto.
Then, long after that non-effort ended, players mingled with reporters inside the postgame locker room to watch Philadelphia and Cleveland battle into overtime to decide the Bulls' first-round playoff opponent.
By the time Philadelphia took advantage of Cleveland resting its starters to snap its six-game skid and eke out an 111-110 victory, only Kirk Hinrich remained.
That left the veteran guard to describe the disappointment of dropping from the sixth to seventh seed and drawing the defending NBA champion Boston Celtics rather than the listing Orlando Magic, which he did in clipped sentences.
"We just kind of laid an egg," Hinrich said. "We had an opportunity and we didn't take advantage of it.
"They're the defending champs. There's not much else to say. When they're at home, it's going to be a huge challenge. They're a great team. We're going to have to play near perfect. Nobody is expecting us to win. We have to stick together as a team."
Boston will open the best-of-seven, first-round series at home, where the Celtics went 35-6. The Bulls went 1-2 in the season series, winning the last matchup on March 17 when Boston played without Kevin Garnett. The Bulls have never beaten Boston in a playoff series—or even won a game.
Even with Garnett at less than 100 percent, Hinrich understands the test that's coming against All-Stars such as Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
"Boston has the Big Three and give the other guys credit as well," Hinrich said. "We're definitely going to have to be ready. The intensity is going to be at a level we haven't seen all year. We have to do a better job defensively."
Indeed, the Bulls allowed 61 first-half points to Toronto and let Shawn Marion abuse a hobbled John Salmons for 34 points and Chris Bosh get 21 points and a season-high 19 rebounds.
This loss strongly paralleled the Bulls' season-ending defeat in New Jersey that cost them a 50-victory season in 2006-07 and dropped their seed from second to fifth. Just like that first-round matchup with Miami, the Bulls draw the defending NBA champions again.
That 2007 series produced a stunning sweep for the Bulls. Can they repeat history?
"We should be confident even though we didn't play well," Joakim Noah said. "We have to stay positive."
That was hard to do if you looked backward. The Bulls, who finished 41-41, fell behind by 15 in the first quarter and by 20 in the first half after back-to-back Jason Kapono three-pointers.
The loss prevented the Bulls, who got 20 points and 11 assists from Derrick Rose, from posting their first undefeated month since January 1996 and their first eight-game home winning streak in more than four years.
"From the jump ball, we got outworked," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We couldn't get stops. They outhustled us on the glass.
"We were lackadaisical and had no energy. I'm disappointed with our effort, which has been very good. It's a hard lesson we'll learn."
Can the loss serve as a wake-up call?
"I'll tell you after the first playoff game," Del Negro said.