CHICAGO (AP) – Ray Allen scored 21 points, Rajon Rondo matched a season-high with 18, and the Boston Celtics continued their torrid pace by holding off the Chicago Bulls 92-81 on Saturday night.

Boston was leading 86-70 after James Posey threw a behind-the-back pass to Allen with 5:23 remaining, but instead of cruising to a win, the Celtics had to hang on.

The Bulls scored the next 11 points, culminating with a three-point play by Andres Nocioni that made it 86-81 with just under a minute left.

Garnett then hit a jumper, and the Celtics won their sixth straight. At 17-2, they own the league’s best record. And it’s easy to see why.

Rondo stepped up on a night when the Celtics three stars were shaky, hitting 9 of 13 shots.

Allen struggled at times, going 6-for-16, but came up with several timely baskets. Garnett was steady, if unspectacular, finishing with 16 points and nine rebounds.

And Paul Pierce flat out struggled, going 1-for-8 from the field with 10 points along with six turnovers.

He got into early foul trouble and missed all four shots in the first half before finally converting a minute-and-a-half into the third quarter.

Others stepped up.

Rondo had one of his best games, and Boston also got a solid contribution from James Posey, who scored 11 points.

Nocioni had another good night for Chicago, which had won four of five and beat Detroit the previous night. He scored 18, after averaging 21 points in the previous four games.

Kirk Hinrich added 16 points and six assists, while Luol Deng scored 15. Ben Gordon added 13 on 5-for-20 shooting.

The Bulls had swept two straight season series from Boston, winning three games last year, but the Celtics aren’t the same these days.

Those concerns about a lack of depth? They’ve been getting key contributions from players such as Rondo, Posey and Eddie House.

The notion that there would not be enough shots to satisfy their stars?

Garnett, Allen and Pierce were each averaging between 19.3 and 20.8 points entering the game. And they’re getting plenty of rest.

Boston kept its starters on the bench during the fourth quarter of Friday’s 112-84 win, but the Bulls posed more of a challenge.

Notes: Bulls F Tyrus Thomas did not get any playing time for the second straight night. Skiles said one reason for his limited role lately has been the play of Joakim Noah and Nocioni. Nocioni averaged 21 points over the previous four games, and the Bulls had been going with Noah in the fourth quarter. … Fans booed Posey, who had a series of run-ins with the Bulls as a member of the Miami Heat, just about every time his name was announced.

AP-ES-12-08-07 2324EST


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