Rondo eases load for Big 3 as Celtics hang on to drop Bulls

CHICAGO (AP) -- Ray Allen was shaky, Kevin Garnett was quiet, and Paul Pierce flat out struggled.

Trouble for the Boston Celtics? No.

On a night when the three superstars were less than super, Rajon Rondo matched a season-high with 18 points, and the Celtics continued their torrid pace by holding off the Chicago Bulls 92-81 on Saturday night.

Sure, Allen scored 21 points, but Rondo was the difference.

"They are worried about KG, they are worried about Paul, they are worried about myself," Allen said. "Him being so aggressive like that, it definitely gives us another angle to our offense."

Boston was leading 86-70 after James Posey threw a behind-the-back pass to Allen with 5:23 remaining, but instead of cruising to a win, the Celtics had to hang on. The Bulls scored the next 11 points, culminating with a three-point play by Andres Nocioni that made it 86-81 with just under a minute left.

Garnett then hit a fadeaway jumper, and the Celtics won their sixth straight. At 17-2, they own the league's best record. And it's easy to see why.

Although coach Doc Rivers called him a "roller coaster," Rondo was steady on a night when the Celtics' three stars were up and down and hit 9 of 13 shots.

"He's a roller coaster. He's a good one, though," Rivers said. "He's a fast roller coaster is what he is. We believe in him. I think he is going to keep producing, I really do. He made some big jump shots tonight."

Allen struggled at times, going 6-for-16, but came up with several timely baskets. Garnett was steady, if unspectacular, finishing with 16 points and nine rebounds.

And Pierce flat out struggled, going 1-for-8 from the field with 10 points along with six turnovers. He got into early foul trouble and missed all four shots in the first half before finally converting 1½ minutes into the third quarter.

Others stepped up.

Rondo had one of his best games, finishing with seven rebounds and five assists, Posey added 11 points and Glen Davis grabbed a season-high 12 rebounds.

"That was huge," Pierce said. "Every night it is somebody different because teams are so focus on me, Kevin and Ray that guys are getting opportunities and they are taking great advantage of it."

Nocioni had a decent night for Chicago, which had won four of five and beat Detroit the previous night. He scored 18 after averaging 21 points in the previous four games, although he hit just 1 of 7 3-pointers. Kirk Hinrich added 16 points and six assists, while Luol Deng scored 15.

But the league's worst shooting team was off target again, going 31-of-86. Leading the brick brigade was Ben Gordon, who scored 13 points but was just 5-for-20. He missed all 10 of his shots in the second half and is at 37.3 percent for the season.

Gordon doesn't see anything wrong with his shot when he watches video, though.

"A lot of times you can find maybe [you're] not holding the follow through or whatever," he said. "Most of the time, it's just shots not going in. You've just got to be patient and continue to work hard."

The Bulls had swept two straight season series from Boston, winning three games last year, but the Celtics aren't the same these days. Those concerns about a lack of depth? They've been getting key contributions from players such as Rondo, Posey and Eddie House.

The notion that there would not be enough shots to satisfy their stars? Garnett, Allen and Pierce were each averaging between 19.3 and 20.8 points entering the game. And they're getting plenty of rest.

Boston kept its starters on the bench during the fourth quarter of Friday's 112-84 win, but the Bulls posed more of a challenge. They just didn't have enough to pull it out.

"Obviously, we're frustrated with this loss, but it was a tough back-to-back," Hinrich said. "We played really well against Detroit, not so well at times tonight -- not to take anything away from them. Hopefully, we're coming along."

Game notes
Bulls F Tyrus Thomas did not get any playing time for the second straight night. Skiles said one reason for his limited role lately has been the play of Joakim Noah and Nocioni. ... Fans booed Posey, who had a series of run-ins with the Bulls as a member of the Miami Heat, just about every time his name was announced.