Bulls on the defensive in loss to Celtics


Dec 20

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors.

The symbolism was obvious Friday after the Bulls beat up by the Boston Celtics 126-108.

Drew Gooden hobbled out of the locker room on crutches.

He was the only one actually limping, but it was a beaten, bruised and battered Bulls team leaving here as the Celtics played the role of the old championship Bulls and the new Bulls played the role of the teams the Bulls of the 90’s didn’t take very seriously.

The Celtics’ starters opened the game scoring on eight of their first 11 possessions against some of the poorest and most porous defensive play we’ve seen from the Bulls in years. Boston took all their starters out in the second quarter and a relatively weak Celtics bench allowed the Bulls to pull within 57-55 at halftime.

So the Celtics apparently decided to get serious.

They came out in the third quarter scoring on 14 of their first 17 possessions, five of the first seven baskets within three feet of the basket on alley oop dunks and layups. The Celtics were up 18 near the end of the quarter and dunking and driving their way to their 17th consecutive win to go to 25-2. Only the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers and 1970 New York Knicks have better starting records with two losses at 26-2.

For the Bulls, if it was any sort of measurement of where they are, they came up very small.

The Bulls fell to 12-14 as Luol Deng was high with 19 points. But they left with Gooden with a sprained ankle which Gooden said could keep him out awhile, with Tyrus Thomas not due back Saturday against the Jazz after a concussion and Derrick Rose after leaving with a banged knee. Rose, though, said he was OK afterwards and said he wasn’t sure why he didn’t play again after four minutes were left in the third quarter.

I know why. The Bulls had no chance.

“Another game Saturday against Utah,” explained coach Vinny Del Negro. “I wanted to give him a rest.”

Rose had 14 points, but he didn’t come close to being able to contain Rajon Rondo, who was a blur in exploiting the Bulls defense, getting four steals and 15 assists, many leading to the career high 25 points for Kendrick Perkins while Ray Allen cruised around the perimeter for 27 points with five threes.

The Celtics simply got whatever they wanted, and sure they are defending champions, and sure they are rolling through this season, but you have to meet them with some force. That force was not with the Bulls Friday, and not lately in what is becoming an alarming lack of defensive presence. It’s been an empire of retreat.

This was the seventh consecutive game an opponent has scored at least 100 points against the Bulls and Boston’s 60 points in the paint was the second consecutive game an opponent has scored 60 points inside against the Bulls.

The Clippers did Wednesday, and take a look back at some of these:

Bobcats: 40 points inside
Nets: 44
Grizzlies: 52
Knicks: 46. The Knicks! Outscored the Bulls 46-42 inside.
Wizards: 42
Bucks: 44
76ers: 44
76ers: 38
Spurs: 40
Jazz: 58
Nuggets: 50
Warriors: 60
Trailblazers: 52
Lakers: 64

In the last 14 games, the Bulls have been outscored in the paint by an average of 12 points per game and outscored their opponent inside just one time in that stretch.

“We play terrible D,” said Andres Nocioni, who fought Kevin Garnett much of the game with Gooden hurt. “Our offense was good enough to win the game (108 points on 50.6 percent shooting). We not play D and this is what happens. I think we are talking about what we need to do on offense and we need to talk about what we need to do on defense. If we want to win games and be in the playoffs, we have to pick it up on D or we will not be in the playoffs.

“The best teams in this league play D,” said Nocioni, who had 16 points and hit four three pointers. “This one, the Lakers, San Antonio. If we want to be a good team, to try to be a contender, we have to start playing D like that. That’s it.”

And so it was Friday.

There wasn’t much positive in this one, though Thabo Sefolosha got his first real playing time in weeks and had eight points and four assists in 22 minutes. The Bulls probably have to begin getting him on the court more given he is one of their better defenders. Like Nocioni said, they score enough. There’s more to the game.

And like Nocioni said about having to guard Zach Randolph and then Garnett

“Garnett is different,” Nocioni said when asked about the back to back overmatches. “He plays both ways. It’s really tough.”

With the game getting away, Cedric Simmons played the entire fourth quarter and had a season high eight points and two blocks.

“It felt good to finally play a little bit,” said Simmons, who doesn’t seem to be in the team’s future but is always working out hard and practicing. “I played pretty good. All the work I’ve been doing to stay ready finally paid off. I try to be professional and stay ready. You never know what will happen in this league.”

Deng was scrambling around getting three steals, a block and seven rebounds.

“We stayed with them the first half,” noted Deng. “The second half we didn’t have the intensity. It’s a matter of learning and staying consistent. We might win some games against teams not so good, but this is one of the best defenses I’ve ever seen.”

The Celtics play such an aggressive defense, they caught the Bulls in traps so often they forced five turnovers from Ben Gordon and four from Aaron Gray.

Boston is a joy to watch on the defensive end, very reminiscent of the champion Bulls.

Garnett directs the effort, talking constantly on motion and screens, directing players as they get back where to be. It’s what we’d see from Michael Jordan back then, and it shows in the effort. Also, the Bulls are at such a disadvantage against the Celtics given their relative lack of motion on offense. The Bulls generally play a screen roll on the strong (ball) side either on top or the side of the floor. Boston’s defense features trapping on the pick and roll and aggressive overplays and they recover quickly, everyone moving. You challenge that with movement and back door action, but the Bulls do little from the weak side.

“It’s not something we’ve done well (weak side movement) this season,” said Gordon. “So we pretty much play into their hands. They can load up on the strong side with KG and Perkins waiting in the back for guys to come at them.

“They pretty much got whatever they wanted,” said Gordon. “We have to eliminate those easy baskets. Anytime you play a team like that if you don’t make them work on the other end it’s tough. (Penetration) was a big problem for us. Rondo got in the lane and distributed the ball all night long to guys in the paint and it really hurt us. They are the defending champions. They’ve won 17 in a row. They’re pretty much clicking on all cylinders. Unless you bring you’re A game it’s tough to beat them.

“It’s not discouraging (to lose to them),” Gordon said. “But when you are playing a game like this you want to try to play your best and work on things. I wish we had executed better.”

Like the old coach once said about his team’s execution.

“Yes. I’m for it.”

The Celtics blew out to a 17-6 lead in one of those kinds of games where great teams know they will win. You could see it in the fancy inside passing, Garnett behind the back to Perkins for a layup, Rondo going high over the Bulls for rebounds and laying off passes for dunks on drives. Though everyone plays off Rondo, he’s still able to beat defenders and as the Bulls collapsed to head him off Perkins and Garnett were open for easy baskets. And it was beautiful to see the way Garnett encouraged and drove teammates, running halfway back up court to congratulate Rondo for a long pass in which started a play but he’s get no assist.

“It’s funny with Rondo,” said Del Negro. “Everyone tries to (keep him out of the paint and play off) and from the tapes I’ve seen no one has had much success. There’s so much attention to Kevin, Paul and Ray the others feed off that. And as Rondo has gotten more comfortable he’s gotten more aggressive.”

Some five minutes into the game, Gooden landed on Perkins’ foot and sprained his right ankle, the same one that cost him two games earlier this season. This time it was worse, said Gooden.

“I turned it bad,” said Gooden. “It swelled up pretty bad. I never had an ankle swell up like this. They took X-rays and there’s nothing broken or damaged, so it should be OK. But it was tough to watch and leave the game so soon like that.”

There was just a bit of good news, though, as Kirk Hinrich, traveling with the team and now with his protective wrap off his injured thumb, said he can see playing perhaps by mid-January. The team is still holding to the 12-week out estimate, which would put him back sometime in early February.

The Bulls actually took a lead in the second quarter as Celtics coach Doc Rivers went with a lineup without any of his Big Three with Sefolosha in the middle of the comeback to give the Bulls a lead at 41-40 midway through the second.

Could it be? Giant killers? Nah.

“I always try to play hard,” said Sefolosha. “Offensively, I played pretty good, cut to the basket, found guys. I think I did OK, but we did not win the game. They are a tough team defensively. It is tough to go against teams like that. They had way to many open baskets.”

Garnett, Paul Pierce and Allen came back and Pierce stole a Gordon pass that led to an Allen three and the Celtics maintained retained some control, though barely a two-point halftime lead.

Then they got serious as the Bulls committed turnovers on the first two second half possessions and five of the Celtics first seven scores of the second half were layups and dunks while the Bulls didn’t score a field goal under 14 feet in the quarter.

Live by the jump shot, die by the jump shot.

The Celtics ran the margin over 20 much of the fourth quarter as the fans for interest cheered their pet rock, Brian Scalbrine, everytime he touched the ball or took a shot or made any sort of play.

The Celtics had a season high 59.5 percent shooting and a season high 12 of 24 threes and scored a whopping 34 points on turnovers.

It was a disappointing night for Del Negro as he predicted before the game the team would be much better this time after being blown out the second game of the season in Boston, trailing by 28 in the fourth before losing by 16

“We were not ready for the challenge that time,” said Del Negro. “We’re better prepared now to make plays, make shots and execute the way we want to do things. But it is hard. They are the world champs for a reason. Derrick is a much different player now than then. But we’re an unpredictable team. I want us to come out and compete hard defensively.”


And now the schedule begins to turn as the Bulls Friday began a stretch of eight games against teams with winning records.

Better D up, or it’s going to be Dum de dum dum.

But it could have been worse. Despite the blizzard in Boston, the Bulls charter got out and home about 3 a.m. they won’t be back again this season until the first round of the playoffs. Playoffs!

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