CHICAGO — Sunday, during his trip to Boston, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau grew just a bit wistful as he looked at what’s left of his former team.
After all, just one Celtics player — Rajon Rondo — remains from the 2008 title squad that Thibodeau won a ring with as a Celtics assistant coach.
“It reminds you of the nature of this league, and really how quickly time goes by,” he said Monday, when his Bulls faced the Celtics again, at the United Center. “You blink an eye, it seems like that championship was yesterday, and then you’re looking down the bench, and you see there’s not many people left.”
The Celtics started anew – rebuilding, they call it.
And for the first time since 2006-07, the season before the Celtics won that title that still seems like yesterday to Thibodeau, they’ll be absent from the playoffs.
The Celtics’ 94-80 loss to Chicago Monday night, coupled with Atlanta’s win over Philadelphia, formally eliminated Boston from postseason contention.
Of course, it’s not as though any Celtics fans — let alone the team itself — was holding out hope for a miracle run. If anything, it’s impressive that it took until the final month of the season for the Celtics (23-51) to be officially knocked out.
But the Celtics were flattened rather emphatically against the Bulls.
After the Bulls led, 71-70, entering the fourth quarter, it looked as though the game was going down to the wire, just like Sunday, when the Bulls pulled out a narrow win.
But in the rematch, Chicago opened the final quarter on a 17-2 back-breaking run, sending the Celtics to their fifth straight loss and their 10th loss in last 11 games.
“For whatever reason, I thought we looked heavy-legged at the end in the second half just kind of across the board,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
“That’s not an excuse, because they played last night too. And I think they played a lot of minutes, maybe probably more minutes. I thought our guys played with really good spirit. I thought we ran out of steam.”
The playoff-bound Bulls (42-32) turned up their vaunted defense late, holding the Celtics to just 10 points in the fourth quarter.
“It’s as good of a defense as I’ve ever coached against,” Stevens said.
The Bulls also forced 18 turnovers over the final three quarters after the Celtics had none in the first.
“They trapped a lot,” said Celtics guard Jerryd Bayless, who tied Brandon Bass for the team high with 18 points. “I think that was maybe the biggest change. They’re just a great defensive team. They apply a lot of pressure. They’re not going to let you do what you want out there. Hats off to them. They played really well.”
The Bulls also held huge advantages in fast-break points (26-6), points in the paint (48-30), and they shared the ball well, tallying 28 assists on 38 made baskets.
Mike Dunleavy (22 points), Jimmy Butler (18), and Carlos Boozer (16) all gave the Celtics trouble.
And Joakim Noah added 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists. Noah also had as many points in the fourth quarter as the Celtics did as a team – 10.
“Yeah, they’re a good team,” Bayless said.
Unlike the Celtics.
“We don’t have a lot of room for error,” Bayless continued. “When we make a couple bad plays in a row, they’re too good and they get on the break and they hit tough shots.
“We’ve just got to be able to pull it together for a longer stretch of time.
“I think overall we played a pretty good game, but there were just lapses, and lapses against a team like that, it’s death, pretty much. So it’s tough.”
The Celtics were without starting point guard Rajon Rondo, who sat out to rest his surgically repaired right knee because the game was a second of a back-to-back set.
Rondo wasn’t far, though. The captain sat near center court as he made his debut as a television color analyst during Comcast SportsNet’s broadcast.
So, Stevens was asked, how to you generate easy offense without Rondo?
“Well, nobody can get easy offense against Chicago,” he countered.
For one half, the Celtics were also without the services of starting guard Avery Bradley, who didn’t play in the second half because of what he said was tendinitis in his right Achilles’.
He’s questionable to play Wednesday at Washington.
Bradley shot 0 for 5 before departing, and many of his teammates weren’t much better.
Jeff Green went 4 for 13, Jared Sullinger and Chris Johnson were a combined 2 for 13, and the Celtics shot just 7 for 25 from 3-point range.
It marked their 10th straight road loss, and they’ll get another crack at snapping that streak in the nation’s capital.
The Red Sox will be in D.C. around the same time as the Celtics, as the baseball team will meet with the President at the White House, the perk of winning the World Series last year.
The Celtics’ last title might still seem like yesterday to Thibodeau, but the continual flow of losses puts more and more distance between that day and this season.
“Change is inevitable,” Thibodeau said.
Time moves on.