CHICAGO — Playing without injured superstar Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls were humbled 109-92 by Philadelphia on Tuesday in an NBA playoff stunner that exposed major weaknesses by the team with the most regular season wins.
Jrue Holiday scored 26 points and Lou Williams came off the bench to score 20 points as the 76ers, who had the worst regular-season record of any NBA playoff team, pulled even at 1-1 in the first-round Eastern Conference series.
Momentum in the best-of-seven series clearly swung to the 76ers after the Bulls struggled without Rose, who suffered a torn left knee ligament in the final seconds of Chicago’s game one triumph on Saturday.
Rose, last season’s NBA Most Valuable Player, was lost for the remainder of the playoffs and the Bulls missed his firepower, leadership and playmaking skills during a drought of 11 consecutive missed shots in the second half.
“We did focus a lot less (on containing scoring threats),” Holliday said of the 76ers’ defense. “Last year we focused on Rose a lot. Now we can start in on (other players) and they didn’t start off as hot as they wanted.”
In the night’s other Eastern Conference playoff game, Paul Pierce scored 36 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead the Boston Celtics over the Atlanta Hawks 87-80 to level that series at 1-1.
Evan Turner, who was inserted into the 76ers starting lineup for the game, scored 19 points and helped pull Chicago defenders off center Holiday.
“Evan got me open (with) ball handling, penetrating in,” Holiday said. “I had wonderful shots. If we get stops and we get pushing, we get a lot of dunks and lot of highlights.”
Joakim Noah scored 21 points to lead the Bulls while John Lucas added 15 and C.J. Watson contributed 12 for Chicago, which closed the second quarter on a 20-10 run for a 55-47 half-time lead.
But the 76ers outscored Chicago 36-14 in the decisive third quarter, Philadelphia not making a turnover in the second half until the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
The Bulls also suffered on the defensive end. The 76ers shot a season-best 59 percent from the field. Chicago connected on only 45 percent.
Carlos Boozer went only 4-of-10 from the field for Chicago, scoring nine points, while Britain’s Luol Deng went 3-of-12 for only eight points and Richard Hamilton was only 4-of-10 for 10 points.
Chicago must now travel to Philadelphia for games three and four on Friday and Sunday.
At Atlanta, the Celtics had 15 points and 12 rebounds from Kevin Garnett while Avery Bradley contributed 14 points for the Celtics, who were playing without injured shooting guard Ray Allen and suspended point guard Rajon Rondo.
Rondo was serving a one-game ban for bumping into a referee in a game-one loss, prompting Pierce to take charge from the beginning for the Celtics.
“I wanted to be aggressive at the start,” Pierce said. “I knew it was coming to me and I had to take the shots.”
Pierce said the team felt an extra sense of urgency playing without Rondo and after losing the first game, especially as the Hawks led 66-61 entering the fourth quarter.
“We had our backs against the wall,” Pierce said. “We got our teeth into it early. We were down but we got back into it and got the win.”
The Celtics will host the next two games in the best-of-seven series on Friday and Sunday and return to Atlanta for game five next Tuesday.
“We’ll get Rondo back and hopefully we’ll hold our home court before we come back to Atlanta,” Pierce said.
Joe Johnson led Atlanta with 22 points while Jeff Teague added 18 and Josh Smith contributed 16.