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Thursday, February 2

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Bulls Fri Apr 08 2011

Bulls Vanquish Celtics, Stake Their Claim to No. 1

Thumbnail image for chicagobulls.pngHere's all you need to know about how well the Bulls handled the visiting Celtics last night, in one paragraph of the AP recap:

"Paul Pierce led Boston with 15 points. Kevin Garnett scored all 10 of his points in the second half and [Rajon] Rondo finished with seven. Jeff Green scored 10 and Ray Allen had seven points."

Anytime the phrase "all 10 of his points" appears next to Kevin Garnett's name, your team has done well.

The game was close for long stretches, but Derrick Rose and the Bulls were too much in the second half, pulling away for a 97-81 win that put them on the brink of clinching the Eastern Conference No. 1 seed. Leading by four games with four games left, Chicago needs only one more win or one more Boston loss to officially clinch.

The Celtics led early in the third quarter, but -- and perhaps this is overconfidence -- the Bulls always seemed in control. Sure, Rondo or Pierce would occasionally make an impressive play, but Rose or Luol Deng were always able to match it. Never once did it seem like the C's could surpass the Bulls in skill or effort.

Rose led the way with 30 points, five rebounds, eight assists and two steals, even hitting all 10 of his free throws for good measure, while Deng added 23 points and Carlos Boozer had 14 points and 12 rebounds.

The Celtics are hurting, it's true. With Shaquille O'Neal sidelined and Jermaine O'Neal not even close to the slightly respectable force he was a few years ago, I can't see them as anything close to the threat they were a month ago. Danny Ainge had his reasons for trading Kendrick Perkins (and Nate Robinson) for Green and Nenad Krstic, but the cupboard is looking awfully bare up front these days.

I dare say that I fear the Heat more than the Celtics in the playoffs, for despite how the Bulls handled them this year, nobody can deny that if LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all playing a good game, they'll be unstoppable. Luckily, that lethal combination comes through about as often as three-team parlay in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

So on a night when they honored Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen with his own ceremonial bust, the Bulls reached a plateau not seen since Pippen and Jordan were running the floor.

Make no mistake, folks: This was a big game. It may have seemed easy for the Bulls, and that's the truly frightening part of it all -- the Celtics are a team that thrives on playing for all the marbles, with players like Pierce and Garnett known league-wide for giving all they have and then some. They knew tonight was their only real shot at grabbing the No. 1 seed, and they couldn't even come close.

Bring on the playoffs. The Chicago Bulls are ready.

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