CHICAGO And so the good-try, good-effort days continue for the Boston Celtics who once again can take away a few positives from their game against Chicago.
But the one positive that trumps them all - winning - remains as elusive now as it ever was for Boston as the Bulls pulled away in the fourth quarter on Tuesday for a 100-89 win.
Rajon Rondo led all scorers with 26 points to go with eight assists. Chicago's Joakim Noah had a triple-double of 11 points, 10 assists and 13 rebounds while Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer each had 21 points.
Boston (12-12) has now dropped three straight for the first time this season, and run the risk of slipping below .500 for the first time since they were 2-3 following a Nov. 9 home loss to Philadelphia.
The sad part about Tuesday's loss was that it came against a Chicago team that had played - and lost - the night before in Memphis while the Celtics have been in Chicago preparing for this game since Sunday.
You would not have known that by the way the game played out.
For most of the night, the Bulls seemed fresher, more sure of their play compared to the Celtics who too often looked indecisive, unsure and just flat-out bad.
The game quickly became a laugher in the fourth quarter with several Chicago players having their way which included former Celtic Nate Robinson who had 18 points off the bench.
The first quarter was actually a relatively close period with neither team being able to get more than five points of separation.
It was an early back-and-forth tussle with there being six lead changes before the first quarter ended with the Bulls on top, 28-23.
The second quarter saw the Bulls' control of the game only increase as their lead peaked at 13 points.
Boston's problems in the second were no different than their problems most of this season - defense.
The Celtics do a lot more trapping and double-teaming with their defense than they have in past years. The only way that can work effectively is if players rotate to shooters quick enough to avoid them having open looks.
It is that latter point that has given the C's problems throughout this season.
And the person most impacted by the porous team defense is Kevin Garnett, who in addition to having his hands full defending one of the Bulls' potent 1-2 frontcourt punch of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, was frequently out of position because he had to help defensively when one of the Celtics' perimeter players allowed dribble penetration into the lane.
So the big first-half numbers by Boozer (12 points, 4 rebounds) and Noah (7 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists) had more to do with Garnett's teammates struggling defensively than they did with his own individual man-to-man defense.
But as poorly as the Celtics played defensively, they still went into the half within striking distance and Rondo was a big reason why.
Rondo, whom Doc Rivers said before the game had been trying to do too much lately, did plenty to keep the Celtics from getting blown out in the first half.
The Celtics closed out the second with a 7-2 spurt that included five points from Rondo to cut Chicago's lead at the half down to 55-48.
But his strong scoring spurt, like most of the what the Celtics did, was not enough of a positive to achieve the only thing that really matters around Boston and that's win games - something this team continues to struggle with doing.