Celtics look lively
Garnett’s effort keys trampling of Bulls
Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau talk as much now, if not more, than they did when Thibodeau was Rivers’s lead assistant in Boston, and when they chatted each other up before Thibodeau’s Bulls came to TD Garden last night, the topic they couldn’t stay away from was Kevin Garnett’s rediscovered bounce.
Thibodeau orders game tape for room service, and when he saw Garnett on film, he looked healthy. A full year removed from knee surgery, he was rebounding above the rim, chasing balls down and grabbing them outside his area.
“That’s the biggest difference,’’ Rivers said. “Not only above the rim, but out of space. Last year, the ball went ‘there,’ and Kevin couldn’t get it. Now he can.’’
The difference between last year and last night was that Garnett got to wherever the ball went.
He grabbed a season-high 17 rebounds to go with the team-high 20 points he scored, fueling the Celtics’ 104-92 win over the Bulls. It was the most dominant he had been on the boards since Dec. 7, 2008, when he grabbed 20 rebounds against the Pacers. His season high a year ago was 13.
The numbers only tell part of the story — it was his ninth double-double of the season. The energy, the spring he’s shown in the early going, are equally important.
“I’m healthy,’’ Garnett said. “Doc knows my history and I don’t like to really share that, but people who are in this locker room — the family — they know what I’ve been dealing with. The league is full of guys who are beat up and I’m no different from that. But I’m healthy, I’m feeling fresh, and I’m revived a little bit.’’
The fact that he was playing Joakim Noah — once one of his biggest fans but now a young, bullheaded carbon copy of a rival — only helped stoke the flames.
With 6:37 left in the third quarter, Rajon Rondo, who had already weaved through the Bulls defense for comically easy layups, was face to face with Derrick Rose. He dribbled once, twice, taking a step back with each bounce, then lobbed a pass over Noah that floated to a place where only Garnett could snatch it.
Garnett turned around for a flush that put the Celtics up, 68-54, and from there it just snowballed on Chicago.
“He was great tonight,’’ said Rivers. “Just fresh, active, alert.’’
As much as he looks like the Garnett of yesteryear, Rivers said he still wants to be cautious. Garnett did all his damage in 33 minutes, resting most of the fourth quarter with the game well in hand.
“I put him in early in the fourth quarter then took him back out, and we were just going to keep him out until,’’ Rivers said. “We were hoping we wouldn’t have to bring him in, but we just needed him fresh. So as lively as he is, you still have to be careful with his minutes.’’
It unraveled quickly for the Bulls, who fell behind by 14 in the first quarter.
Chicago put together a 17-5 run to start the second quarter, but the Celtics absorbed the blow. From the point when Rondo cut through for a layup with 10:09 left in the third quarter to the moment he found Garnett for that dunk, the Celtics went on a 15-2 run to put the Bulls in a permanent hole. Even Semih Erden had a nasty one-handed dunk on the highlight reel.
Rondo distributed 19 assists to go with his 12 points. The Celtics dominated the glass (44-34) and held the Bulls to 41.9 percent shooting.
It was a finished product versus a work in progress. Thibodeau is still trying to put the pieces together, including Carlos Boozer, who rejoined the team this week after recovering from a broken pinkie. The Celtics, however, have navigated injuries all season without skipping a beat.
“That was the vintage Kevin that we know of,’’ said Paul Pierce. “He showed a lot of flashes of his old self. He’s just getting better every week and we’re seeing it.’’