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Fast Break: Celtics run out of gas in Chicago

04.06.12 at 12:19 am ET
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Avery Bradley is now a starter. (AP)

It’s a make/miss league as Doc Rivers is fond of saying on occasion when analysis breaks down and all you can do is shake your head. The Celtics made the Bulls miss a lot in the first half of their game on Thursday night, but it was a different story in the second.

With the game in the balance, Chicago’s John Lucas III drained a 30-footer with the shot clock running down. Shortly after that, Luol Deng double-clutched a jumper, but it fell anyway. The Celtics had a chance to cut a fourth quarter lead to two points, but Kevin Garnett‘s layup rimmed in and out.

The Celtics competed hard on the second night of a back-to-back and it was their best effort in Chicago since Tom Thibodeau took over as head coach, but it wasn’t enough in a 93-86 loss. They remain a game ahead of Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division with a showdown looming on Sunday, but they lost a valuable chance to put some distance on the Sixers and pick up ground on the reeling Magic.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Avery as a starter: Rivers told the TNT broadcast that it was Ray Allen‘s idea to come off the bench and insert Avery Bradley into the starting lineup. This is how you handle a potentially awkward move. With Allen’s blessing, the Celtics can play the best lineup they’ve had all season. The word “classy” will be used a lot — especially in light of the dysfunction in Orlando — but the real word here is “professional,” and both Rivers and Allen have exuded that during this transition.

Allen as a reserve: On a night when Bradley dealt with foul trouble, Allen was able to score 14 points off the bench. It wasn’t vintage Allen, but you can see his timing starting to return.

The defense has been insane: After a first half in which the Bulls scored 38 points and made just 12-of-35 shots, the Celtics played four quarters where they allowed just 66 points to two of the top four teams in the league in terms of offensive efficiency. Then the third quarter happened and the Celtics gave up 29 points. Still, that four-quarter run was the best sustained defensive effort they’ve had this year.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Kevin Garnett is searching for his shot: As consistent as he’s been, Garnett will go through minor shooting slumps like he’s having right now. Over the last three games he’s 17-for-47 and seems to be aiming, or short-rimming his outside jumper. It could be an indication of tired legs or fatigue and that’s to be expected at this point in the season.

Breaking news: The Celtics have rebounding issues: This is why the Bulls matchup is so tough for them: With their big, deep and athletic frontline, the Celtics have a hard time finding bodies to bang down low. They stayed with them on the boards for a half, but surrendered 14 offensive rebounds, and that remains their Achilles heel.

The bench didn’t produce: It’s going to take some time to work Allen into the rotation and find some rhythm, but the sooner the better because the Celtics bench needs a lift. They’ve done admirable work without several key players, but on a night when Garnett was struggling, the bench offered little help. Greg Stiemsma picked up three quick fouls, Ryan Hollins had two points and no rebounds in 12 minutes and Keyon Dooling and Sasha Pavlovic didn’t record any shot attempts.

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