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Chicago Bulls blown out 107-86
Commissioner David Stern joked before Thursday night's Game 3 that Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf had called him the Grim Reaper because of home teams' tendency to lose when Stern attends their playoff games.
The Bulls' 107-86 loss to the Celtics, however, is no laughing matter.
Gone is the home-court advantage the Bulls had wrested by winning Game 1 in Boston. Gone is the confidence and swagger that had defined the Bulls' play in the taut first two games of these Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Gone, too, should be any idea that the defending NBA champion Celtics can't win a series without Kevin Garnett. Game 4 is at the United Center on Sunday, but if the Bulls want to advance, they now will need to win another road game.
"They just completely outplayed us from start to finish," a disgusted Kirk Hinrich said. "It was like one team was in the playoffs and one team was in the preseason. It's very disappointing. We were soft all game."
Mistake-prone, too, with 22 turnovers that the Celtics converted to 24 points. Derrick Rose committed a career-worst seven and added 4-for-14 shooting, badly losing his matchup with Rajon Rondo.
At least Rose held on to the Rookie of the Year trophy Stern presented him before the game. Everything else seemed to slip through the Bulls' fingers, which is why, by game's end, the sellout crowd of 23,072 offered scattered booing.
"I could care less about the award," Rose said. "This game is way more important than that. I need to control my turnovers and get the team to move the ball around."
The Bulls shot 37.5 percent with just 14 assists as the Celtics aggressively double-teamed Rose and Ben Gordon.
Rondo, meanwhile, almost posted his second straight triple-double with 20 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals. Teammates carried him into the locker room after the game, but Rondo said the mildly sprained ankle he suffered in Game 2 is fine, and his play backed that up.
Paul Pierce looked more like a Finals MVP than the tentative player who had appeared in the first two games, finishing with 24 points in 27 minutes. Glen Davis added 14 points, nine rebounds, six assists and six steals.
Gordon's meager 15 points led the Bulls, who waved the white flag when Aaron Gray, Lindsey Hunter and Linton Johnson III entered the game with a whopping 8 minutes 30 seconds remaining.
"We were very tentative and nervous," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Our ball movement was terrible. We got picked apart. I thought we lost a lot of confidence, especially our younger guys."
Despite the fact the Bulls never led and trailed by as many as 34, one of those younger guys flashed defiance.
"We know we can play with this team," Joakim Noah said. "We'll definitely be ready to go on Sunday."
Pierce will, too, after establishing himself early and scoring 13 first-quarter points.
The physical tone from Game 2 continued, with Rondo drawing the series' first flagrant foul for pulling down Noah with 2:13 left in the first.
The Bulls went 28-13 at the United Center during the regular season and are an all-time NBA playoff-best 105-35 at home.
That didn't matter. This effort resembled the regular-season finale collapse to Toronto.
That cost the Bulls a playoff seed. This could cost them a playoff series.
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