CHICAGO - The latest loss was as painful and frustrating as any for the Boston Celtics, so it was no shocker when coach Doc Rivers vented afterward.
But he didn’t aim his anger at his players. His target was a referee.
John Salmons tied a career high with 38 points, and the Chicago Bulls rallied for another surprising victory, beating the Celtics 127-121 on Tuesday night despite 37 points from Paul Pierce.
Rivers, meanwhile, was irate after he got whistled for his second technical foul with 29.8 seconds left. That led to an automatic ejection and a rant against referee Bill Kennedy.
Rivers claimed he was goaded and called it “the most unprofessional tech I’ve ever had.”
It was a fitting end to a frustrating night for the Celtics, who were trying to clinch at least a share of the Atlantic Division title. Instead of a celebration, there was more frustration.
Coming off an 86-77 loss at Milwaukee on Sunday in which they set a season low for points scored, the Celtics set one for points allowed in another disappointing loss for a team that’s trying to lock down home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Boston led by 13 in the third quarter, only to give it away, and Chicago surprised another playoff-bound team after beating New Orleans 97-79 on Saturday.
Leading the late charge were Brad Miller, Derrick Rose and Salmons.
The Bulls, who are leading the race for the eighth playoff spot in the East by a half game over Milwaukee, shot 70 percent in the fourth quarter, with Miller scoring 13 of his 21 points and Rose and Salmons adding nine apiece.
“We just wanted to attack them and take control,” Rose said.
Pierce, Rajon Rondo (26 points) and Ray Allen (17 points) did what they could for the Celtics, who have dropped four of five and have struggled lately through injuries — the most notable being Kevin Garnett’s sprained right knee. The might be without Allen, too, when they play Miami on Wednesday, after he hyperextended his right elbow.
“It’s all predicated on how I feel tomorrow,” he said.
The Celtics are just in a painful stretch, period.
The Bulls scored six in a row to grab a 117-111 lead and were ahead 122-117 after Salmons drove across the lane for a three-point play with just over a minute remain, the ball bouncing off the back of the rim before falling through the net.
Salmons came up with another big basket after Miller rebounded Rose’s miss and handed off to him, making it 124-119 with 29.8 seconds left. The Celtics called a timeout, and Rivers got tossed, leading to a free throw for Ben Gordon. Salmons then hit two more foul shots after a layup by Rondo, making it 127-121, and the Bulls escaped with their seventh straight home win.
“It really was a fun game,” Salmons said.
Not for Rivers.
“(Kennedy) stood there and goaded me and goaded me and goaded me and stared at me,” Rivers said. “Look at the film. I actually walked away. He asked me, ’Where do you want the ball?’ And I said, ’Ask them,’ talking about our players. That’s my right to say that, and I walked away. He stood there and stared me down and stared me down and goaded me until I turned around and said, ’What?’ That’s when I got thrown out of the game.”
The Celtics dropped to 6-6 since Garnett hurt his knee, and although they hope to have him back this week, there’s no guarantee they will.
Rivers initially expected to have the All-Star forward back for Friday’s game at San Antonio, but a more likely return date appears to be Saturday, when they visit Memphis. And that’s no sure thing.
Garnett hasn’t practiced since Feb. 19, and Rivers doesn’t want to risk aggravating the condition by bringing him back too soon.
“With Kevin, the problem for me will be that he may get clearance at the end of the week without having practiced,” Rivers said before Tuesday’s game. “That’s going to be very difficult for me to play him, even though, obviously we need to play him in those games.”
Rivers said the shootaround would have to go “better than I expect” for Garnett to play Friday, and if he does, he’ll sit out Saturday’s game.
Notes: The Bulls wore green uniforms in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. ... Besides Garnett, the Celtics were also without Brian Scalabrine (post concussion syndrome) and Tony Allen (left thumb injury). Leon Powe joined them on the sideline after he bruised his right knee in a collision with Gordon and will be re-evaluated on Wednesday.
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