Bulls Red Faced over Blowout Loss to Celtics


Apr 24

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I thought I heard someone in the Bulls locker room say at least they had their health.

No, it wasn’t quite that bad. Well, maybe. It was bad. It was ugly. It was embarrassing. It was near historic playoff futility for the Bulls, a 107-86 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the opening round playoff series that would have been the worst playoff loss in franchise history if rarely used Anthony Roberson and Lindsey Hunter had not combined for a trio of three pointers in the last two minutes of the blowout defeat.

“One team was in the playoffs and one team was in the preseason,” sighed Kirk Hinrich. “It’s very disappointing.

“I don’t know the reason for it,” Hinrich said. “We were soft all game. We had such a sense of urgency in Boston. We knew it was just going to be us against how many thousands of people. I guess we could have relaxed (back home). It’s frustrating. We played well here all season. Tonight we came out and laid an egg. It seemed like they wanted it more. It seemed like they were more determined than us.”

This simply was awful on what promised to be a festive night for the Bulls. The fans were asked to arrive wearing red, and almost all did, bathing the United Center in the Bulls colors. NBA commissioner David Stern was there to present Derrick Rose the Rookie of the Year award. The Bulls had become the talk of the playoffs with the two best games of the post season resulting in the 1-1 split in Boston. Rose’s 36-point opener and Ben Gordon’s shootout with Ray Allen already were becoming playoff legend.

It turned out the biggest red was the embarrassment in the faces of players and fans about the lopsided loss.

Barely expected to register on the playoff thermometer, the Bulls had been smokin’. They suddenly looked like they could take out the defending champions. So national reporters like Pardon the Interruption’s Michael Wilbon trekked to Chicago for the big game.

The Bulls let us all down.

Though the Celtics had a lot to do with that.

“Not the home game we would have liked,” offered Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “We started out poor, we were tentative, very nervous. We got picked apart. We missed a lot of free throws and our ball movement was terrible. I though we lost a little confidence, especially the young guys. We weren’t moving the basketball, making the game real hard. Five assists at the half and 22 turnovers (24 Boston points) for the game is not going to get it done. You are still dealing with young guys who have not been through it. They have to raise their play. I told them you cannot hang your head. This is the playoffs. Nothing is easy. We are down 2-1. We have an opportunity to even up the series (Sunday).”

Yes, the Bulls will come harder Sunday for Game 4.

They’d have to. Any less effort and they’d be fined for sleeping on the job.

I hated to hear Del Negro talking about the Bulls as a young team again. I thought we were done with that, especially with the additions of John Salmons and Brad Miller. The Bulls won in Boston, and had a big time chance to take Game 2 and a 2-0 lead with a five-point lead with three minutes left. Ouch. That really hurts now.

This was a Bulls team that went into Boston and outplayed the Celtics twice.

It’s why the NBA nation began to notice.

Thursday night they were turning their lonely eyes away from the Bulls.

So, yes, now the Bulls are deep underdogs again. No, you don’t get deep national analysis in the playoffs. When you lose, you look like you’ll never win again. When you win, you look invincible.

And then there was Thursday, when the Bulls looked like someone had stolen their poise and competitiveness. And lunch money.

Actually, it was the Celtics with a terrific effort.

Not good enough to lead by 34 points with almost nine minutes left in the game when Del Negro gave up and inserted Aaron Gray, Linton Johnson and Hunter. Not that good.

But there was little doubt from the opening of the game—the Bulls never led and trailed by 11 midway through the first quarter—this wasn’t the Celtics team the Bulls had seen in Boston.

“I was thrilled with the way we played,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “I don’t know if we got them rattled. We were more concerned with ourselves and for two days I heard we couldn’t play defense. I thought (Paul Pierce) set the tone for us. I thought he came out extremely aggressive and attacked early.”

Pierce, who led the Celtics with 24 points, was playing so indifferently I thought he might be injured. The Celtics still apparently were reeling from the loss of Kevin Garnett for the playoffs, though Pierce pooh poohed that Thursday and said the team, at least, knew Garnett would be gone weeks ago. They lost backup forward Leon Powe in Game 2 for the playoffs, and Rajon Rondo suffered a sprained ankle and reports the last few days were that he had bigtime swelling in the ankle.

He left the arena being helped off by teammates. But he insisted his foot was sore and his ankle was fine. What the heck is going on with these Celtics and injuries? Maybe they were just resting Garnett for a later series.

Once again, Rondo was the best Celtics player in the floor with another amazing game, 20 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals after a triple double in Game 2.

“Last year, everyone said there’s no way we’ll do it with a point guard who can’t shoot from the outside and we proved them wrong,” Rivers said of the criticism of Rondo before the Finals. “He had played well last year and we just had a great feel from him today that he was going to come out and play well. That whole star-making thing is up to you.”

I’m in.

Conversely, it was an awful night for the Bulls point guard star, Rose , who had nine points and seven turnovers. The Bulls were led by Ben Gordon with 15 points on five of 13 shooting. Hinrich added 14 off the bench to equal Salmons.

“Shocked, really,” said Rose about the outcome. “It really hurts to lose like this in front of the home crowd. They came out great. We came out sluggish. They came out to win the game. They came out and hit us right away. I could care less about that (Rookie of the Year) award now. This game is more important than that. We can’t get down like that. They were more aggressive, playing the passing lanes. I have to control my turnovers and move the ball around. We felt we had the (home court) advantage.”

Whatever advantage the Bulls felt they enjoyed from their play in Boston is gone.

The Celtics hit them with a flawless plan and executed it to perfection. The Bulls didn’t even get a blindfold. Though they shot like they were wearing them, 37.5 percent and 63 percent from the free throw line.

Signs, likely, of nervousness, stage fright, not being able to stand up to the moment. It can be more difficult at home where you are expected to win. The Bulls weren’t expected to win in Boston. Neither game, especially after winning the first. So the pressure really started Thursday. The Bulls didn’t deal with it well.

Pierce came out hitting his first six shots, aggressively isolating, which he wasn’t doing in the first two games in Boston.

“In Games One and Two I was a little indecisive,” said Pierce. “But I’m getting comfortable with what [the Bulls] want to do. I think what we did to come out collectively really set the tone. We know what kind of team we are. The way we played tonight is the way we want to play. We feel even though we won the last game, it really wasn’t the way we wanted to play. We felt tonight was the way we want to play offensively and defensively, controlling the boards. We were causing turnovers. We were limiting their score options. Tonight we showed the way Celtics basketball was played the last two years.”

Pierce had 13 points in the first quarter, and that was even with two fouls that forced him out of the game with four minutes left in the first.

But it was the Celtics who were the tough guys.

Little Rondo soon drew a flagrant foul for slamming down Joakim Noah on a drive.

The Bulls have a big issue with the Celtics in Noah and Tyrus Thomas being speedy, but thin and weaker than Kendrick Perkins and Glen “Big Baby” Davis. It got so frustrating for Thomas later on he drew a technical foul for pushing his longtime buddy Davis after getting tied up with Pierce and angrily elbowing Pierce.

More physical play is common in the playoffs, and it was clear the Celtics intended to batter the Bulls.

The Bulls countered that well in Games 1 and 2 by pressuring, forcing turnovers and running out for scores, not allowing the Celtics defense to set. The Celtics are excellent setting up something of a wall toward the ball when they are in the halfcourt, and the isolations for Pierce to start the game helped that.

It was the Celtics who were able to begin slowing the pace, and Pierce hitting shots kept the Bulls from pushing the ball out. Then the Bulls seemed to become anxious in trying to force the action and the tempo and began turning the ball over, a shocking nine in the first quarter for 14 points as Rondo is relentless in the open court, and another five in the second quarter.

“I thought we did a good job winning the 50-50 battle, plays were there are loose balls where they have a chance to get it and we have a chance to get it, and I thought we did a great job making those plays for loose balls and rebounds,” said Pierce.

In reality, the Bulls were probably doomed at that point.

Their only real run of the game was in the second quarter when they got within 48-36 on a Salmons baseline drive past Pierce and reverse slam dunk.

But the Celtics got a huge game from Stephon Marbury, who hit a three at that point, missed and got his own rebound and passed to Ray Allen for a basket and then found Allen for another three to close the half back ahead 59-37.

“I’m happy for Steph,” said Rivers. “You know the history, but you could see guys pulling for him all game. He plays a team game and he hasn’t had an opportunity in this playoff to play much or play well.”

It’s not good news for the Bulls if Marbury, who had 13 points, can help since he provides a solid extra ballhandler. The Celtics had him off the ball playing with Rondo in the second half. The pair helps the Celtics maintain better control of the ball if Marbury is performing, and thus cuts down on chances to get steals and run out.

The bigger change for Boston was expected.

It was pretty obvious where the damage was coming from, Gordon and Rose.

So the Celtics adjusted their pick and roll coverage and blitzed Gordon off every screen. They’d been trapping Rose, as most teams do. But their traps were more aggressive with Perkins or Davis, and the Bulls got a bit impatient and didn’t reverse the ball much.

“When we got down, our shots weren’t falling,” said Del Negro. “Next time we have to move the ball around better and play more team basketball. The Celtics, they have a lot of help strong side so we should have anything we want. It wasn’t a selfish thing. I think everyone wanted it so bad and everybody was trying to do it themselves. Maybe an experience thing, trying to get it back very fast. And all of a sudden you’re down 8 or 10, you’re down 15, 18, 20 and you can’t get it back that fast. I don’t think our guys were nervous, per se. I just think we had a terrible game. I think everyone got a little anxious at the beginning of the game. I was a little nervous about that. But I thought we were going to settle down and get back into it. We couldn’t get on a roll, and when we did we couldn’t convert or we’d turn it over and they were converting and we kept on looking up at (a bigger deficit).”

It got out of control quickly in the third quarter.

The Bulls adjusted to start double teaming and trapping Pierce after his quick start, and he gave the ball up and the Bulls’ rotation was weak.

The Celtics continued to attack the basket while the Bulls began settling for jumpers as the Celtics began to collapse into the lane. It’s clear their strategy, which should be obvious to anyone playing the Bulls: Load up on Rose and Gordon and see if Noah and Tyrus can beat you.

”Derrick just has to be a little more aggressive,” said Del Negro.

Yes, save us Derrick.

I’d look for the Bulls to begin isolating Rose more on top of the floor where he’s harder to get to with a double team and let him make plays. He’s the only one who really can. It is his team.

With the Bulls turning the ball over, it was the Celtics playing the Bulls game with runouts and a 12-7 edge in fast break points, the first time in the three games the Celtics won that category. And when Salmons jumped into Pierce and Pierce still hit a three to make it 76-50 with about five minutes left in the third quarter it was pretty much over.

“The way we came out and played the result was not a shock,” said Gordon. “Everybody had an off night, including myself. For whatever reason guys couldn’t get it going. We didn’t do anything well. Rebound, share the basketball. We didn’t defend. I know this is not us.”

They’ll have two days to think about whom exactly that was out there in Bulls uniforms. How they can win a game back in Boston again. Assuming they can win Game 4. Desperation time comes quickly in the playoffs. Lose Sunday and the Bulls go to Boston a game from elimination, which likely would be a formality at that point.

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