Shortly after Doc Rivers joked about how he and Jim Boylan comprised the first All-Marquette coaching matchup in NBA history, the Celtics' coach turned serious.

"I think they're going to be in the playoffs," Rivers said of the Bulls. "They could be our first-round opponent."

Rivers made his prediction before the Celtics built a double-digit first-quarter lead, led by as many as 28 and cruised to an easy 116-93 victory Friday night at TD Banknorth Garden. So he wasn't yet flush with victory.

Rivers, however, did detail a Bulls team that most regular observers have seen only sporadically.

"You can see their confidence is growing," Rivers said. "Just because they don't have a good record, I still think they're a quality team. What happened early in the year, they got off to a tough start and then they started pressing like any team would with the expectations they had. Now you watch them and they play at the same intensity level. They're playing freer offensively."

Not against one of the league's best defenses. The Celtics limited the Bulls to a season-worst 31.8 percent shooting and frustrated the Bulls with 16 of their 43 free throws in the final 3 minutes 24 seconds of the first half.

Drew Gooden didn't stick around to see the carnage. Pulled late in the second quarter, he fired his warm-up top at the scorer's table when interim coach Jim Boylan called him back to action 2:41 later.

With 55.1 seconds left, official Scott Wall ejected him with two quick technicals after Gooden committed a loose ball foul on Glen Davis.

Boylan later followed suit with his own technical early in the third quarter, received as Paul Pierce buried a three-pointer.

For good measure, Larry Hughes, who shot 4 of 15, also got a technical late in the third.

"I've said worse before," Gooden said. "But you saw what I saw."

As the Bulls careen back and forth, failing again to post their first three-game winning streak this season, everybody is jumping on the Celtics' bandwagon. Sam Cassell didn't dress but signed for the stretch run.

And former Bull P.J. Brown made his Celtics debut late in the third quarter and promptly set up Pierce's fast-break basket with a steal from Joakim Noah.

All five Celtics starters reached double figures—despite all but Rajon Rondo sitting out the fourth quarter—led by Pierce's 22 points.

Ben Gordon's 20 points led the Bulls, who played without Tyrus Thomas as he finished his two-game team suspension for intentionally missing Wednesday's practice.

"The Celtics are a very good defensive team," Boylan said. "What you need to do against them is make your open shots. We had some looks. They just didn't go down. We looked a little fatigued, too, and they beat us up on the glass."

The loquacious Cassell was at his quip-making best beforehand, joking about how despite not practicing, Rivers is holding him back. Then the veteran of two titles with the Rockets turned serious in words that might make Bulls fans wistful for the days of those lofty preseason expectations.

"The mind-frame of these guys is great," Cassell said. "This thing is bigger than all of us. We're all trying to accomplish one thing and that is to win the championship. You have three primary players in Paul, Kevin [Garnett] and Ray [Allen] who are sacrificing their numbers.

"No one is thinking about scoring. Everyone has the same goal, to win it all."

Layups

With Kirk Hinrich playing just 20 minutes because of foul trouble and Thabo Sefolosha missing his fifth straight game with a strained left groin, forgotten man Chris Duhon played 25. Sefolosha said he might play Sunday in Detroit.

kcjohnson@tribune.com