Kevin Garnett added 13 points and 12 rebounds, reserve JaJuan Johnson had 12 points and Ray Allen 11 for the Celtics, who snapped a two-game skid. Rondo had season highs in both points and assists.
The win came after what Boston coach Doc Rivers called an “awful” performance in an 86-74 loss at Toronto on Friday. Rivers was very frustrated after the game and spoke about how it was “un-Celtic.”
C.J. Watson, who started in Rose’s spot, scored 22 points for the Bulls, whose win streak ended at five in the finale of a 6-3 road trip. Carlos Boozer also scored 22 and pulled down seven rebounds, while Joakim Noah had 16 points and nine boards.
Rose, the reigning league MVP, missed his second straight game with what coach Tom Thibodeau called “stiffness” in his back. Rose is expected to see a specialist Monday after the team returns to Chicago. He originally suffered the injury earlier in the week and was limited in Wednesday’s win at New Orleans before missing Friday’s victory over Charlotte.
The Bulls trailed by 14 with just over 5 minutes to play, but they turned up the pressure defensively and made a late run, pulling to 91-88 on Luol Deng’s two free throws with 1:23 to go.
After a turnover by Paul Pierce, Watson was short on a 3-point attempt and Rondo grabbed the rebound with 21.5 seconds to go. He was fouled and hit both free throws.
Watson missed the second of two free throws and Rondo grabbed his 10th rebound with 9.8 seconds on the clock.
Without having to worry about covering Rose, Rondo seemed to roam free on offense for most of the game, driving the lane for easy baskets, taking open jumpers and setting up teammates. He had 28 points, nine assists and six rebounds entering the final quarter.
The Bulls had closed the score to 72-68 early in the final quarter before Allen and Pierce nailed 3s during a 10-3 run that helped Boston take charge. Rondo had assists on both 3-pointers, driving the lane to collapse the defense before kicking the ball outside.
Rondo had fast-break alley-oop lobs for dunks on consecutive possessions to Johnson and Chris Wilcox that made it 86-72 midway through the fourth.
The Celtics had opened a 59-50 third-quarter edge on Rondo’s free throw before the Bulls scored eight of the next 10 points, closing the gap to three. But Boston improved its advantage to 72-66 after three on Rondo’s two free throws with 3.3 seconds left.
Boston held Chicago to 34 percent shooting in the first half and led 48-43 at intermission. The Bulls stayed close behind 11 offensive rebounds.
Part of the reason for Boston’s quick start may have been the poor showing in Toronto. It was just the third time in club history that the Celtics scored below 75 points and the first in 11 years.
NOTES: Boston was without F Brandon Bass and F/C Jermaine O’Neal. Rivers said Bass’ knee “swelled up” after Friday’s game and that “he’ll be out probably 10 days to two weeks.” Rivers said O’Neal had knee and shoulder injuries. … During his pregame press briefing, Rivers said his former assistant Thibodeau is somewhat like Patriots coach Bill Belichick because “he works so hard and he expects everybody to work as hard as him, which is impossible.” Rivers recalled a story about how Thibodeau had two teams chasing him before helping persuade him to take the Chicago job. “He actually had two jobs and I grabbed him by the shoulder and said, ‘Are you kidding me? You have a chance to coach Derrick Rose and you’re thinking about another job?’ Are you nuts? I actually said, ‘If it’s a penny to go there or $10 million to go to the other place, take the penny. In the long run you’ll be able to coach.'”