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Sunday, January 9, 2005

Chicago getting into groove

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— Kirk Hinrich spread his game to all corners of the floor, shooting and passing and running the Chicago Bulls' offense that featured an added flavor Saturday night.

Hinrich scored 22 points and tied his career high with 14 assists, while rare starter Othella Harrington matched a season high with 19 points as the Bulls beat the Boston Celtics 102-91.

"Everyone is getting on the same page, and it's fun to play like that," Hinrich said after Chicago's ninth win in 12 starts. Not bad for a team that started the season 0-9.

"It seemed like everything was clicking," he added. "I was able to find people and make the scoring pass early in the game and continue that throughout the game.

With Antonio Davis sidelined by an injury, Harrington stepped in and hit nine of 12 shots and also had a season-high 10 rebounds.

"I just took the same shots that I work on every day," Harrington said. "I tried to be as aggressive as I could."

Rookie Luol Deng had 19 points for the Bulls, who beat Utah on Friday night and are now 4-1 in January.

The Celtics, led by 20 points from Paul Pierce and 14 from Tony Allen, lost back-to-back games after falling Friday night to Detroit. Coach Doc Rivers gave some of his starters fewer minutes Saturday, but not because they were tired.

"You've got to play defense. Why didn't I play the starters more?" Rivers asked. "The starters didn't play defense. (Eddy) Curry would have had a career night the way he came out at the start. You play defense or you don't play and you saw that tonight."

Starting forward Raef LaFrentz played just 17 minutes and center Mark Blount only 21.

"Crunch the numbers any way you want to. We're four games under .500 and that's not good enough," LaFrentz said after scoring just two points.

"All I know there are a lot of guys trying," guard Gary Payton said. "If coach feels we are not defending well, so be it."

Hinrich sparked Chicago's 25-17 third-quarter advantage with 12 points and three assists.

"What I love about Kirk is that he doesn't force anything," Rivers said. "What did he have, like three points at the half? Then he just comes out, passes the ball and starts to score. I really enjoy watching him play. ... But not so much tonight."

In Chicago's decisive 13-0 run in the third, Hinrich hit a jumper and a pair of 3-pointers and then on a break made a nifty alley-oop pass to Curry for a slam, capping the spurt that put the Bulls ahead 73-58 with 6 minutes left in the third.

Boston rallied to within seven with 4 minutes left before Harrington hit another soft jumper and Hinrich drove for a basket, was fouled and converted the three-point play.

Hinrich followed in his own miss just before the first-half buzzer to cap a 19-5 run over the final 4 minutes as the Bulls took a 58-52 lead. He finished the first half with seven points.

Notes: Davis sat out with a hip pointer, the first game a Bulls starter has missed this season because of injury. Harrington's start was just his third of the season. ... Boston has lost six straight on the road. ... Marcus Banks scored 12 points off the bench for Boston and had a career-high eight assists.

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