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updated: 2/15/2012 8:26 PM

Bulls' next challenge: stopping Celtics' Rondo

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  • Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo finished with 33 points and 15 assists in Sunday's victory over the Bulls at Boston. The Celtics visit the United Center on Thursday night.

      Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo finished with 33 points and 15 assists in Sunday's victory over the Bulls at Boston. The Celtics visit the United Center on Thursday night.
    Associated Press

 
 

Tom Thibodeau earned the job as Eastern Conference all-star coach when the Bulls defeated Sacramento on Tuesday, staying ahead of Miami for the best record in the East.

But the All-Star Game is not until Feb. 26 in Orlando. There are more pressing concerns, and they involve Thibodeau's specialty -- defense.

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With Derrick Rose sitting out because of back spasms, the Bulls let Boston point guard Rajon Rondo run wild Sunday. Rondo piled up 32 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds in a 95-91 victory.

Then Tuesday the Bulls and the Sacramento Kings played the highest-scoring, non-overtime game of Thibodeau's head-coaching career, which the Bulls won 121-115 at the United Center.

The official word on Rose was he received treatment "off-site" Wednesday. He talked about paying another visit to the chiropractor, so that's probably where he was.

More than likely, Rose will miss Thursday night's rematch with the Celtics at the United Center. A return Saturday against New Jersey or Monday against Atlanta seems more realistic.

So the obvious task facing Thibodeau and the Bulls is to slow down Rondo somehow without Rose's help. When the Bulls beat the Celtics with Rose in the lineup Jan. 13, Rondo finished with 14 points and 11 assists.

"Rondo's an offense unto himself," Thibodeau said Wednesday at the Berto Center. "He's always a challenge every time we play them. A guy like that, any great player, you have to guard with your team. So there are a lot of things we have to do better."

Thibodeau knows Rondo as well as any coach, since he spent three years as a Celtics assistant before joining the Bulls. Asked for specifics on what they should do better, Thibodeau declined to answer.

"We'll keep those private, but there's some general things that we have to do a lot better," he said. "Our overall defense, floor balance is important."

When it comes to slowing down Rondo, one glaring statistic from Sunday's game is Boston's 33 fastbreak points.

That is easily the most given up by the Bulls this season. In fact, they've allowed as many as 20 fastbreak points just four times in 31 games.

What's odd about the Celtics' fast breaks is just 18 of those points came off turnovers. Poor shooting (38.6 percent overall, 30 percent from 3-point range) also played a role in Boston's sprints to the hoop.

Since Rose has been out, the Bulls have done a nice job of getting the ball inside. They've scored at least 54 points in the paint in three of the last four games but finished with 40 against the Celtics.

Carlos Boozer scored 22 points in Boston, and Joakim Noah added 16. But Luol Deng (3-for-12), C.J. Watson (8-for-23), Kyle Korver (1-for-5) and John Lucas III (3-for-9) shot poorly.

So it would seem slowing down Rondo has as much to do with the offensive end as it does defense. But there is no question the Bulls' pressure on the ball is not as strong when Watson or Lucas is playing instead of Rose.

"He's a great player, and just like every other great player, he's going to have great nights," Deng said of Rondo. "He had a great game against us last time."

Celtics center Kevin Garnett, who had 13 points and 12 rebounds against the Bulls, did not play Wednesday against Detroit because of a hip injury.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com.

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