Celtics 107, Bulls 82

Bulls forward Joe Smith chases a loose ball in front of the Celtics' Kevin Garnett. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer / December 21, 2007)

Once, after a game like the Bulls' an unemotional, indifferent 107-82 loss Friday night to the Celtics, former Phoenix coach Cotton Fitzsimmons gathered his players in the locker room and symbolically flushed the toilets.

Just flush this one away and forget it, he told the team.

But that swooshing sound you hear may be the Bulls' 2007-08 season going down the drain.

"I really don't know what to say," shrugged Luol Deng, whose eight points were among a measly 39 for the Bulls' starters. "We weren't making shots; our defense broke down. We keep saying the same thing, that we're going to find it. The season is wearing down."

And the season is getting out of reach quickly, especially because it was a game against a good team that had lost at home Wednesday for the first time and had committed itself to winning.

"Tonight was a statement game for us," said Kevin Garnett, who was brilliant in directing the offense and defense despite scoring only 12 points on six shots. "Ray [Allen] and Paul [Pierce with a game-high 22 points] were repeatedly saying, 'We got to stop the bleeding.' "

They carved up the Bulls in a blowout that had the Celtics (21-3) leading by 22 points midway through the second quarter.

It was a sobering message for the Bulls, who came into the season with so much hope: If a good team really is serious, the Bulls appear to have no chance.

"Across the board we didn't have the energy, the execution, the ballhandling, all the things you need to stay in the game let alone win against a team like that," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "I don't know if confused is the right word. We were unsure of ourselves out there.

"We started to fall behind and instead of digging in and trying to battle back—maybe I shouldn't make this statement without looking at the tape—it just seemed like our guys gave in. Against a team like that, they are going to sense it and you're going to be in trouble. They gave us their best shot and we had trouble responding."

Ben Gordon led the Bulls with 19 points, the only starter in double figures as the Bulls shot 35.5 percent.

Aaron Gray, who played in the first half and started the second as Ben Wallace was out with bone spurs in his left foot, was solid again with 14 points. Skiles said Gray would start Saturday night against Houston's Yao Ming if Wallace is unable to play.

The Bulls starting unit seems numb and in shock.

Kirk Hinrich (four turnovers, two assists and two points), Gordon and Deng offered shrugs and quizzical looks to questions about the game and their performances. Almost no one was exempt from ineptitude as balls dribbled off feet, passes went to no one, shots were forced and defensive lapses abounded.

Not that any one sequence much mattered, but the Celtics overwhelmed the Bulls in the second quarter.

They never led by fewer than 14 points afterward as Tyrus Thomas and Deng wandered away from guarding James Posey as Posey lined up easy threes, Hinrich lobbed away passes, Andres Nocioni and Thomas received technicals, Deng forced off-balance shots and the ball rarely moved.

The crowd spent much of the fourth quarter mocking the Bulls with chants for 12th man Brian Scalabrine while the Celtics' Big Three of Garnett, Allen and Pierce cheered on their teammates and celebrated the multiple Bulls mistakes.

It was a sharp contrast with the solemn Bulls, who sat silently on the bench, another funeral scene at a carnival.

Skiles opened the fourth quarter with a lineup of Gray, Thomas, Sefolosha, Chris Duhon and Viktor Khryapa. Somewhere Red Auerbach was lighting up.

"In key moments," Skiles said, "we just fall asleep."

sasmith@tribune.com