Previous ArticlesIt's a question of Independence and Britain for Luol Deng
Celts End up Seeing Red as Bulls Go Green
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 18
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. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
The Bulls Tuesday imposed their will on the Boston Celtics.
You read that right.
The Bulls made the defending champion Celtics—OK, without Kevin Garnett—play their game, running and spreading the court and accelerating the pace, and the Celtics could not keep up.
Yes, the Bulls outthought the Celtics and outsmalled them.
I don’t believe it’s a word. But you might be confused watching the Bulls—yes, this season’s now 31-37 Bulls—having dominated the New Orleans Hornets and Chris Paul Saturday and taken every punch from Boston and Paul Pierce, with 29 second half points, and come out standing Tuesday in an entertaining 127-121 victory that had Celtics coach Doc Rivers ejected in frustration just seconds before the conclusion.
It’s usually Bulls coaches leaving in frustration.
Hey, they might have something going here.
“It was a great game,” said John Salmons, who led the Bulls with 38 points in a heck of a battle with Pierce, who had 37. “We really came out with a lot of energy. They fought back, we hung in there, and then we found a way to win it at the end. It really was a fun game.”
It’s not that the Bulls discovered the secret formula to beat the Celtics, who became awfully small with Garnett out, Leon Powe injured early and then MIkki Moore fouling out early in the fourth quarter. So it evolved into a scoring battle, which the Bulls can handle well. The Celtics took a gamble late with a lineup of virtually all guards in Pierce, Ray Allen, Stephon Marbury, Rajon Rondo and Eddie House.
About which time Brad Miller turned into Wilt.
“There were a lot of six footers out there,” noted, who finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds. “If I can’t get rebounds against six footers, it’s really time for me to retire.”
This was just a heck of an offensive show, the most points the Celtics have surrendered this season, and perhaps a twinkle of a possibility if the Bulls can get to the post season as they eased ahead of the Bucks into eighth in the Eastern Conference.
It was the Bulls seventh consecutive home victory, and since the All Star break and the trades for Salmons and Miller, the Bulls have beaten the Nuggets, Magic, Rockets, Hornets and Celtics, five of the top nine teams in the NBA.
That suggests less a fluke than a team that could put a scare into someone, like the Atlanta Hawks did in taking Boston to seven games to open the playoffs despite a 37-45 season. At least at home. And it was Atlanta that won all it’s home games against Boston in the first round last year.
No, the Bulls aren’t going to lock down and stop anyone.
But at home where they feel comfortable and play with greater aggression and enthusiasm, they are becoming a legitimate threat with several weapons.
There was Salmon’s career equaling 38 points and a heck of a first half defensive job on Pierce, who had eight points on three of seven shooting as Boston led 55-54 at halftime. Salmons has quickly become the Bulls best perimeter defender, making up for the trade of Thabo Sefolosha and with an impressive offensive array that Sefolosha didn’t have.
Though Derrick Rose and Miller provided the impetus to match the Celtics down the stretch in a terrific fourth quarter shootout, Salmons effectively closed out the Celtics with a hard driving basket from the wing past Ray Allen for a three point play that gave the Bulls a 122-117 lead with 1:01 left.
And then after Pierce was fouled by Kirk Hinrich and made two free throws, Salmons finished off a dominant sequence that showed this one was no fluke.
“John Salmons was spectacular most of the game with attacking the basket,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro.
The Celtics were small again and Rose took a switch and had Pierce on him and shot. It hit short, but Miller grabbed the rebound over Rondo. He drove at the basket and Allen stepped in. So Miller dropped the ball off to Salmons for the layup and 124-119 lead with 29 seconds left.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers with the Celtics now having lost in Milwaukee, were he attended college, and Chicago, where he grew up, had seen enough. Rivers had words with referee Bill Kennedy and likely invited a fine with his post game comments.
“The technical on which I got thrown out was the most unprofessional technical by a ref I’ve ever had,” said Rivers, who isn’t particularly prone to exaggeration. “He stood there and goaded me and goaded me and stared at me. Look at the film. I actually walked away. He asked me, ‘Where do you want the ball? And I said, ‘Ask them,’ talking about our players. That’s my right to say that, and I walked away. He stood there and stared me down and stared me down and goaded me until I turned around and said, ‘What?’ That’s when I got thrown out of the game. In a three-point game. Think about that. Think about that play, that Bill Kennedy made. That is the most unprofessional tech I’ve ever had.”
Coach upset. Team dominated. Players without answers. Yes, the Bulls know that scene, and this time it was the Boston Celtics.
And on St. Patrick’s Day in an NBA leaguewide initiative in which several teams were asked to wear home green uniforms, which is the Celtics color. The Celtics, thus, had to wear white with green trim since the home team wore a dark color. Because of their history of success, the Celtics are generally regarded in the NBA like the Yankees in baseball and the Cowboys in football, the team most love to hate.
So how sweet was that as well for the Bulls to show who really looks good in green.
The Bulls went green and it sure cut the oral emissions from the champions.
“We just wanted to attack them and take control,” said Rose. “When you are out there playing against a good team, it’s even that much more fun.”
We’ve heard that “attack” mantra so much this season, and in the end it was the difference this time.
It’s not supposed to work in the playoffs, and maybe it won’t if the Bulls get there. But there is something of a formula to beating Boston, though it becomes much more difficult with Garnett, who is due back this week.
Boston, like veteran teams, prefers to control the tempo and pace of the game, play half court and grind an opponent down with execution. A young team like the Bulls wants to set an aggressive pace, push the ball and run out on the older Celtics.
The Bulls had a 17-6 edge in fast break points and 58-44 on in the paint points as they constantly drove at the Celtics and shot an impressive 53 percent.
The Bulls’ aggression was clear early, as Tyrus Thomas had 14 of his 18 minutes, and the much of his playing time, in the first quarter going hard to the basket on drives and pick and rolls with Rose. Thomas was eight of 10 free throwing in the first quarter alone as it began to look like Del Negro was leaning toward using Tim Thomas more because defenses had been sagging off Tyrus Thomas and Tyrus was shooting more jumpers.
Tyrus changed that Tuesday, and the Bulls catapulted to a 24-15 lead.
“We came out and started the game awful,” said Rivers. “I think they scored on all but three possessions and we’re a great defensive team. They were really good offensively or we were really bad defensively in the first quarter. The first quarter we were bad. We have to be better than that. After that I thought we fought hard, we just came up short.”
Salmons also did a heck of a job overplaying Pierce, fronting him on postups and fighting him for position. Pierce has proven to become a great competitor instead of a selfish shooter since Garnett arrived, and Boston adjusted to get him in more switches after halftime to get Salmons off him. And Pierce was uncanny with his shot.
“Not really (a special game),” Miller said in response to a question. “Just an important game. More than anything you just start to think: Is Paul Pierce ever going to miss a shot?”
The Bulls took their biggest lead at 34-22 late in the first with the highlight of Miller going into his shot and seeing Tyrus at the last second and shooting, in effect, a lob pass for a Tyrus dunk, though Boston closed within 34-26 after one.
The Bulls looked like they’d pull away when Ben Gordon got inside and handed off to Joakim Noah for a dunk, which was overruled to be a charge on Gordon. Noah had been impressive to start the game outrunning Kendrick Perkins for a couple of scores, and even taking an open lane and spinning for a layup as he has slowly begun to make himself an offensive option.
But Noah, who ended with six points and seven rebounds and gave way to Miller after the middle of the third quarter, had a tough sequence with a pair of missed free throws, an easy missed layup after being ahead of the pack and a turnover, all in four possessions as the Celtics closed and led 55-54 at halftime.
Boston surged ahead 75-62 to open the third quarter as Pierce and Allen hit back to back threes and Pierce began getting deeper position and isolating Salmons with backdown and ball fakes. By the way, what ever happened to that five second backdown rule? Has anyone ever seen that called anymore? I figure Pierce could have had a couple.
But this time the Bulls wouldn’t go away.
Salmons and Gordon matched those threes, Gordon with a dozen in the third, and the shootout began late in the third with Gordon and Tim Thomas hitting threes and a Thomas layup which was matched at each possession by Pierce and Rondo.
Though two of my favorites plays happened just before.
First Hinrich drove the lane, ball faked a pass that froze Bill Walker, and walked in for a layup. Then Salmons spun left on Pierce, who was being blitzed on defense, then spun back right for a finger roll basket in a sign of things to come.
Hinrich, who had nine points and six assists, also made what I thought was a classic, thinking man’s defense play that started the Bulls off after they fell behind 95-90 early in the fourth.
Boston was beginning to lose the Bulls in pick and rolls, which happens all the time. Hinrich is one of the better Bulls in playing it as he doesn’t give in so easily to the screen.
This time he was beaten by Rondo, who crossed over a screen by Perkins and Miller had no chance of catching the slick Rondo. But Hinrich took a short cut down the lane, anticipating where Rondo would get to the basket and blocked the shot. He recovered the block—yes, just like Bill Russell did in not knocking those shots out of bounds instead of what most guys do today to show off—and threw ahead to Gordon. Gordon has become a tougher finisher and dunked the ball to get the Bulls within 95-94.
The Bulls weren’t backing off.
The next key sequence was Rose as MJ.
No, not quite that good. But Rose, who had been quiet all game and in some foul trouble, drove and switched hands to the left, reminiscent of the famous switch hands layup from the 1991 Finals Game 2, and Rose scored. On the Bulls next possession, Rose coming from the wing and blowing past Eddie House took a nice bounce pass from Miller, who may be the game’s best at that, and hung over Pierce, double clutched and dunked with two hands for a 100-97 Bulls lead.
“When you’re down to one big and he’s dying on the floor you have to take him out,” Rivers lamented about removing Perkins and initially having some success when the Bulls made the mistake of trying to match small. “We had five smalls. It was a makeshift lineup. I was really proud. I thought our guys really fought. Their size at the end of the day, Brad Miller, really hurt us on those offensive rebounds. But I was really happy I thought overall we did a pretty good job.”
With those five on the floor with Pierce the tallest, Del Negro went to a small lineup with Tyrus Thomas. But Thomas kept getting stuck on Pierce, and combined with a pair of House threes and a Pirece driving layup, the Celtics took a 113-111 lead with 3:12 left as Del Negro called time and went back to Miller, who had scored four consecutive baskets, two on offensive rebounds, before being replaced by Thomas with the Bulls ahead 108-107.
That last score before the timeout was another personal favorite as Rose had Marbury isolated on the right wing and blew by Marbury so fast I thought I saw Marbury’s shorts spin backward. Marbury, by the way, looked unable to compete.
Del Negro, anyway, apparently noticed it going badly and went right back to a Rose/Miller high screen with Rose driving. Pierce was trying to play Miller, and when he followed Rose, Miller took the miss over Rondo and was fouled and made both free throws to tie the game at 113 with 2:56 left. Miller would have 13 points and six rebounds just in the fourth quarter.
Allen missed a three, and then Salmons took a long Rose pass in the right corner and beat Allen and threw down a reverse jam for a 115-113 lead. Rivers got Perkins back in, but he missed a follow and Rose drove into Perkins, took the hit and scored to make it 117-113 Bulls with 1:57 left.
Pierce drove and scored, and you began to feel you didn’t want this one to end it was getting so good as there would be 13 lead changes and 12 ties.
Pierce continued to fight and scored again, and though Rondo added 26 points and 10 assists, the Bulls had too many weapons this time. It is the risk of the Big Three/Little Nine roster. You do need all three.
With Rose and Miller in the high screen again, the Celtics trapped Rose as Perkins moved left with Rose. So Miller dove at the rim and Rose, bobbling the ball under pressure, found him for a layup and 119-115 lead with 1:23 left. Back came Pierce again like those Pinkertons following Butch and Sundance.
But the Bulls had an answer each time with the teams trading scores down the stretch on nine straight possessions. So Salmons scored on the drive for the three-point play and the layup off the Miller offensive rebound for that 122-117 lead with 1:01 left, and then that handoff with 29 seconds left that preceded Rivers’ technicals. Gordon hit the technical free throw for a six-point lead with 29.8 seconds left, and Rivers took the dreary walk to the locker room just before the rest of his team.
It’s on to Oklahoma City Wednesday for the Bulls, but then the Lakers in the United Center Saturday. C’mon, bring ‘em on!