Thanks to another all-out effort by the few healthy players left on the roster, the Celtics outlasted the visiting Bulls 71-69 to win ugly, earning their eighth victory in nine tries since the first of the injury dominoes fell two weeks ago.
The Celtics (28-24) climbed four games above .500 for the first time all season as four C's reached double digits, led remarkably by Brandon Bass (14 points, 9 rebounds). Kevin Garnett (12 points, 11 rebounds) and Paul Pierce (8-6-6) scored the C's final nine points as they held off a Chicago charge to close the final quarter.
The Celtics' 19 combined points in the second and third quarters marked the team's lowest point total in consecutive quarters of a single game during the shot clock era, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Likewise, their 71 total points was the third-lowest point total in a Celtics victory since the inception of the shot clock.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Defense: The Celtics held the Bulls to 15 points in the first quarter and 13 in the third. Chicago's five starters — Luol Deng (4-10 FG), Carlos Boozer (5-14 FG), Joakim Noah (3-8 FG), Richard Hamilton (1-6 FG) and Nate Robinson (2-7) — shot a combined 33.3 percent. It's a good thing, because the C's actually shot worse until …
Heart beats: As they've done since the injuries to Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger and Leandro Barbosa, the Celtics never quit. Playing their third game in four nights, shooting miserably and trailing by as many as seven in the first few minutes of the final quarter, the C's found life. Capped by back-to-back buckets from Jason Terry (12 points) and Jeff Green (8 points) off the bench — both assisted by Garnett — the Celtics put together a 12-0 run, holding the Bulls scoreless for a stretch of 5:44 midway through the fourth quarter and capturing a 59-54 lead.
Bass finishing: In desperate need of offensive help, the Celtics found an unlikely hero. Beginning to emerge from a season-long funk, Bass scored his highest total (14) since Nov. 28. He also grabbed more rebounds (9) than he has since Nov. 25. Bass and Garnett combined for 26 points and 20 rebounds, forming a formidable frontcourt that limited a sizable advantage by the bigger Bulls, who got 27 rebounds from Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Offense: The Celtics made eight field goals in the second and third quarters combined. After scoring 24 points and taking a nine-point lead in the opening quarter, the C's made 4-of-18 shots in the second quarter (22.2 FG%) and 4-of-21 attempts in the third (19.0 FG%), scoring 11 and eight points, respectively. Somehow, someway, the Celtics trailed just 49-43 entering the frenetic fourth quarter.
Wayward captain: After a superb stretch of basketball during their recent seven-game winning streak, Paul Pierce battled through his toughest night since Rondo's ACL injury. He started a putrid 1-of-11 from the floor and missed his first two free throw attempts. While he added six assists and six rebounds, it's remarkable the Celtics were in the game at all without their captain's offense. Of course, Pierce managed to deliver another dagger of a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics a 65-60 lead with three minutes remaining.
Without Wilcox: Whether he's still suffering from the injuries that have kept him from playing 20 games this season or simply missing Rondo's alley-oops, Chris Wilcox hasn't been the same since returning from his thumb issue two weeks ago. Outside a few solid stretches against the Heat, Lakers and Bobcats, he's struggled to make a consistent impact. Wilcox played 11 minutes against the Bulls, didn't attempt a shot and recorded as many fouls and turnovers as he did rebounds (2).