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Bulls Loss to Raptors Means Celtics in Playoffs
by Sam Smith
Posted on Apr 16
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Forget that trip for the Bulls to Orlando which seemed so likely, and perhaps forget the chances for a first round playoff upset.
The Bulls blew a heck of an opportunity for a first round series with the lately stumbling and beaten up Orlando Magic by losing Wednesday 109-98 to the Toronto Raptors at the United Center.
The Bulls could have gotten the more favorable matchup with the third seeded Magic if they had won or the Cleveland Cavaliers had defeated the Philadelphia 76ers. But the Cavs rested all their starters—seemingly not in the spirit of competition with playoff seeding still to be determined—and the 76ers hung on in overtime to win and get the matchup with the Magic.
The result is the Bulls will open the playoffs Saturday afternoon in Boston against the defending champion Boston Celtics, who are saying Kevin Garnett will return from knee problems.
So instead of an up and down, fast paced Orlando team that suits the Bulls offensive style, the Bulls get the physical, veteran Celtics, who slow the pace of the game and completely dominated the Bulls in the two games the teams played in Boston. The Bulls won the one in Chicago played without Garnett, 127-121.
“They’re the defending champs. No one is expecting us to win,” said Kirk Hinrich, the last to leave the Bulls locker room Wednesday, thus being available to reporters once the Cavs-76ers game ended and the Bulls positioning was finalized. ”So we’ve got to get ready and stick together as a team and try to put forth a good effort.
“We’re excited to be in the playoffs,” said Hinrich. “At the same time, they’re the defending champs and deserve the credit. They’re a great team.They’re the defending champs. There’s not much else to say. When they’re at home, it’s going to be a huge challenge. We’re going to have to play near perfect. Boston has the Big Three and give the other guys credit as well. The intensity is going to be at a level we haven’t seen all year. We have to do a better job defensively. They just pushed us around (when we played them). They’ve been more physical. It seems like we’ve been on our heels every time we played against them.”
Reminded that just two years ago the Bulls swept the defending champions, then the Miami Heat, in the playoffs with one of the Heat key players, Dwyane Wade, coming back from injury, Hinrich smiled:
“There’s not too many of us here who were here then,” he said.
As for guys who were not here then, the Bulls have never—not once—beaten a Boston Celtics team in a playoff game.
The Bulls were swept by the Celtics 4-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1981 after the Bulls had upset the Knicks 2-0 in the opening round, and the Bulls were swept by the great Bird/McHale/Parish Celtics teams in 1986 and 1987 by 3-0 margins. That 1986 series was when Michael Jordan set the all time playoff scoring record with 63 points in a double overtime loss. Yes, Jordan was 0-6 against the Celtics in the playoffs in his career, and the Bulls franchise is a combined 0-10.
Hang on, I’m getting to the positives.
“They’re the world champs,” said coach Vinny Del Negro as he left the locker room late, long after his players had departed. “We’re going to have to play a lot better than we did (Wednesday). Garnett is supposed to be back, so we’ll start preparing.”
Del Negro, who doesn’t usually suggest such things, was obviously upset about the poor effort the Bulls put forth Wednesday in a game in which they could decide their playoff destiny.
An apparently better matchup and impressive sixth seed seemed almost sure given 15 wins in the last 16 at home, and coming off a terrific road win in a tough game in Detroit Monday. The Bulls had a chance to achieve a winning record for the season (they ended 41-41, an eight game improvement from last season), and a chance to go into the playoffs with a six game winning streak.
But they never really were in the game, dominated on the boards 57-40, shooting three of 14 on threes and letting Shawn Marion loose for 34 points and 11 rebounds and Chris Bosh for 21 points and 19 rebounds.
Perhaps of more concern was the continued declining play of John Salmons, who was one of seven for five points as he failed to stay anywhere near Marion. Salmons has been fighting a groin injury, which seems to be slowing him more, though Del Negro said it hasn’t gotten worse and Salmons wanted to play. Salmons has been perhaps the major player in the February trades that changed the team, especially with Luol Deng out for the season.
But Salmons now has failed to score double figures the last two games, and is nine for 36 shooting the last four games. He’s been the team’s best individual defender since the trade, though the team is hopeful the two off days before the playoffs begin will help.
“His injury is not getting worse,” insisted Del Negro. “(But) it won’t get better until (after) the season. He’s made big shots for us in the past. He’s not feeling great. There are a lot of guys injured and playing through. He’s one of them. If he said he didn’t want to play and was injured, I’d sit him down. I thought he was fine. He had an off night.”
Del Negro said he had no regrets about playing Salmons, though you had to wonder if the rest would have helped. Del Negro suggested it didn’t matter and Salmons is going to carry this injury burden the rest of the way.
Still, the Bulls won in Detroit Monday against a better team (the Raptors ended 33-49), so the opportunity was there, and Del Negro was unusually harsh in his post game assessment.
“From the jump ball, they had better energy,” Del Negro said. “We couldn’t get any stops defensively. They moved the ball better. We couldn’t get any rhythm going offensively. We held the ball too much on the offensive end. It started from the first quarter on. We cut it down in the second quarter a little bit but we could never make a real steady run at them. They out hustled us on the glass. We got killed on the rebound game. We couldn’t control Bosh. Marion killed us. I thought we were lackadaisical, no energy. A disappointing effort which has been for while very good. I’m not real happy with the way (we) finished. I’m disappointed in the urgency we showed tonight. I think it’s a hard lesson we learned. Maybe because we had a big win in Detroit the other night, maybe everyone was just happy. But for whatever reason they were just quicker to the ball and faster. I didn’t think anybody really played very well.
“If we don’t play lot harder than we did tonight it will be a rude awakening for us and it will be quick,” said Del Negro. “We’re going to have to get a lot better a lot quicker.”
Right, heck of a time to give up amphetamines (movie Airplane joke).
It really wasn’t much of a game for the Bulls, who reverted to some of their worst tendencies, particularly on defense.
Bosh opened the game putting up jumpers in the face of Tyrus Thomas with little resistance and had a dozen in the first quarter. Marion blew by Salmons on hustle points, and Toronto had a 32-18 lead after one quarter.
By halftime, the Raptors had 60 points, though it looked for a while like Derrick Rose, who had 20 points and 11 assists, would rally the Bulls back into the game. He took over with the Bulls trailing 41-22 early in the second quarter, scoring on four of the next six Bulls possessions with three drives and a jumper. It kick started the Bulls on a 23-7 run that brought them within 48-45. There even was a clever Tim Thomas pass to Joakim Noah in the middle of it with a smiling Thomas pumping his fist at Del Negro on the sidelines to show he’d completed the difficult play.
The Bulls bench players lit up several times in that run, urging their teammates on, which was a positive sign. It was more emotion than we usually see from the Bulls, though it didn’t make enough difference, at least Wednesday.
The Raptors closed the half with a 13-4 run mostly behind Bosh and Jose Calderon, the latter with 14 points and 14 assists.
The Bulls offered little resistance thereafter and trailed by double digits for the last 20 minutes of the game.
“It was disappointing,” said Ben Gordon, who led the Bulls with 23. “We came out with lackluster energy. It’s definitely disappointing. It’s kind of baffling (to lose like this). We just have to put that game behind us. We can’t let that happen in the playoffs. Those guys are just really good. We’ve had match-up problems the whole season (1-3 record). They just had their way.”It was an odd locker room scene after the game.
The usual routine is Del Negro comes out first and meets with reporters. When he is finished, the locker room is opened to reporters. The scene is usually sedate as the Bulls aren’t a boisterous group. The most animated usually is Anthony Roberson, who doesn’t play much. Likewise, veteran Lindsey Hunter, across from Roberson and next to Tyrus Thomas, is also one of the more talkative and upbeat.
Rose usually dresses the fastest and is ready for questions first.
Gordon sits near him with newcomer DeMarcus Nelson between them. Gordon usually is out of the shower fast, but dresses slowly while Rose talks. They routinely are the two most consistent Bulls as far as talking with reporters and making themselves available.
The curious part Wednesday was that the Cavs-76ers game to determine the opponent went into overtime just as Del Negro was about to speak to reporters. So there could be no questions about the playoff opponent.
The general feeling was the Bulls also wanted Orlando given their style of play, lack of playoff experience and injures lately to Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. But everyone was careful to say how all the top three were such good teams and it would be difficult against any, so it didn’t matter.
But you had the strong suspicion the Bulls wanted no part of the Celtics and that atmosphere in Boston.
Though Garnett has been out and the suspicion is he’s hurt worse than the Celtics are saying, the Celtics absolutely dominated the Bulls in two early season games, winning 96-80 in Boston in the second game of the season and 126-108 in Boston in December with a snowstorm raging outside. Kendrick Perkins had a career high in pushing around the Bulls and Rajon Rondo is perhaps the only guard in the league with speed to match Rose. Boston was 25-2 at that time and that win was its 17th straight with talk then of a 70-win season.
That faded quickly with Garnett’s injury, and the Celtics lost in the United Center on St. Patrick’s Day in a wide open game. That’s likely the only way the Bulls can compete with Boston since the Bulls don’t have that low post threat or physical interior game, though they are better with Brad Miller.
So as the Cavs’ subs and 76ers played on, some of the Bulls watched.
Gordon was answering questions and seemed only marginally interested. I asked why he wasn’t watching. “You’re blocking my view,” he said with a laugh. But he wasn’t really that interested and left before the game was over.
Tyrus Thomas seemed into it for a bit, shouting at the screen at one time “C’mon Wally,” when Wally Szczerbiak didn’t foul quickly enough in a late game situation. Aaron Gray watched intently, but Joakim Noah headed out. Salmons dressed quickly and left before the game ended, though Salmons is one of the quieter players and has the locker in the right front away from most of the veterans and some empty lockers. He usually comes out of the shower a bit late, dresses and leaves if there are no questions.
The Cavs had thrown in that three in regulation to tie the game with a second or so left, and that situation presented itself again in the overtime. But most of the players had left by then. Hinrich is always the last one to dress as he usually takes some treatment after the game. He has the locker next to Jordan’s old one, which has been left empty. It’s closest to the training room door, a familiar spot for media to stake out. With Hinrich not a starter anymore, most reporters generally have left before he dresses, which seems fine with him as he doesn’t care much for the post game interviews. Though he always is cooperative when questioned. This time reporters were waiting for him since he was the last who could speak about Boston.
Why, I wondered, were the reporters seemingly more interested in the opponent than the players.
“You’ve got to play who you get so it doesn’t matter at this point,” said Hunter, who’s been in the most playoff games. “You just get ready to go out and play. Ultimately, you want to know who you are playing (because) of where you are going and when. You’re going to play one of the top teams, so you just want to get up for he challenge and play basketball.”
And so starts the second season.
In totality, it’s been a heck of a season for the Bulls.
They finished seventh in the Eastern Conference and at .500 when few predicted they’d make the playoffs, especially halfway through the season when they were nine games under .500.
Rose has developed into a potential star and both Noah and Tyrus Thomas have improved dramatically, Noah with another good effort with 17 points and nine rebounds and Thomas with 12 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. The trades for Salmons, Miller and Tim Thomas have given the team a different look and attitude. The Bulls have been one of the best teams in the league since the All Star break and have established a home court edge, 28-13 for the season. So there are possibilities, though taking a shot at the Magic would have certainly been preferable.
This has happened with the Bulls before, a few years ago blowing a last game against the Nets. A win would have given them seeding above the Cavaliers, who got a much easier playoff road and made the NBA Finals. So as Del Negro likes to say, the Bulls have more work to do.
“Maybe we relaxed a little and took it for granted because we were playing so well here,” said Hinrich. “The main thing is in the playoffs you cannot outscore teams. We’ve got to be able to win games that are in the 80’s. Hopefully, we bring that when we step out on the floor against Boston. Hopefully, we also realize how good Boston is. We should be on high alert. If we don’t come ready to play, things could get ugly.”
Here’s the full Bulls first round playoff schedule:
|1||Saturday, 4/18||Boston||11:30 am||CSN/ESPN|
|2||Monday, 4/20||Boston||6:00 pm||CSN/TNT|
|3||Thursday, 4/23||Chicago||7:00 pm||CSN/TNT|
|4||Sunday, 4/26||Chicago||12:00 pm||ABC|