Celtics send message to Bulls: Not this time!


Oct 31

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You are not supposed to be able to send messages this early in an NBA season. But it seemed the Boston Celtics air mailed one to the Bulls Friday in Boston’s bruising 118-90 stampede over the Bulls.

Having had to listen for almost six months about how evenly the Bulls played the Celtics in last spring’s memorable opening round, overtime filled series, the Celtics’ play spoke eloquently that things are different now and you kids are not quite ready.

Forget overtime. This one was over before anyone had much time to sit down.

“They played intense defense tonight,” said Derrick Rose, who had a quiet 10 points and two assists, reported a modicum of ankle soreness in what looks like an ongoing watch and was dominated by Rajon Rondo.  “I’m happy this is early in the season so we can come back and learn from it. It took a long tome for us to get in a groove.  I’m still trying to find my groove out there.”

Joakim Noah led the Bulls with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and the Bulls did have five players scoring in double figures. But the game in no way resembled the spirited opening win over the San Antonio Spurs.

“Not to use the easy excuse, but we just didn’t play the same way as we did in the opener,” agreed Kirk Hinrich.  “Defensively, we weren’t helping each other.  It just didn’t seem like the intensity was there.  Offensively, we didn’t play together.  We tended to go off on our own and we struggled as a result of it.  Hopefully we can take this as a learning tool and go down to Miami (Sunday) and play better.”

Sure, you can bring out the excuses, like playing the second of a back to back, arriving late in Boston and then being awakened in the wee hours by a fire alarm in the team hotel.

I’d say Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were bigger warning bells as it was such a complete domination that you were reminded more of a boxing match being stopped early. Like the beaten boxer pleaded, “Would someone answer the door!”

The Bulls managed to get through the first round. But they were being counted out before the second was over.

“I didn’t think it started bad,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro of the Celtics 21-17 first quarter lead.

Though I’d disagree since the Bulls shot five for 20 in the first quarter with John Salmons zero for four and now five for 29 through two games.

Someone give him an eye test.

“I thought we were alright in the first quarter,” said Del Negro. “We just couldn’t make shots, but I liked some of the things we did. I didn’t like our physicality tonight. We were a step slow on our shows defensively, and then we couldn’t do anything offensively and put any pressure on them. And then once they got on a little bit of a roll–that’s what good teams do—it’s hard to stop.”

We’ll get into it more, but it was pretty much over less than four minutes into the second quarter when the Celtics scored eight straight to take a 29-19 lead and basically led by double digits the rest of the game, mostly close to 30 and at one point by 31.

And while Thursday’s home win over the Spurs raised notions that the Bulls were better off without Ben Gordon given their fluid ball movement, balanced scoring and improved defense, Friday’s loss shouted for someone to shoot the ball as Salmons was two of 14 and Luol Deng two of 8, though in just under 20 minutes played.

It raised for the Bulls the classic backup quarterback situation: Where’s Derrick Byars now that we need him!

Byars was the rookie shooting guard recently released, though he’d hardly be playing ahead of Salmons and Kirk Hinrich, the latter with 10 points, though zero for five on threes. Fourth guard Jannero Pargo was six of 12 for 13 points. Plus, Gordon never had much success against Boston until last season’s playoffs as they usually played him with a big, stronger guard. Other than playoffs, Gordon has scored more than 20 points against the Celtics just once in his career.

The bigger issue was the guys who were there, and that they certainly aren’t at the level of the Celtics. It’s hardly an indictment as perhaps only one or two other teams in the NBA are for now.

But you’d like to make a better showing.

The Celtics were ready even as the Bulls players sought to downplay the first meeting since the playoffs. The Celtics staff had watched carefully Thursday’s win and saw the Bulls crashing the offensive boards against the Spurs. That left opportunities to run as long as the Celtics rebounded, and they did, catching the Bulls late in transition too often.

Rookie Taj Gibson got a lesson from Garnett, who had 16 points in just under 25 minutes. Gibson got caught out of position trying to help, giving Garnett open looks. Fellow rookie James Johnson got his first playing time late when the game was decided and doesn’t look ready to contribute as he seems uncertain of what to do when he’s in the game.

Noah did his best to fight off Kendrick Perkins, who was getting deep position, and lost his cool on one occasion and drew a technical foul trying to slam the ball out of Perkins hands after Perkins had backed him deep with force. Noah also continues to have trouble setting a screen as he again was caught moving for an offensive foul.

But overall Noah was probably the Bulls best player on the floor. He fought on the boards, sneaking a few lefty hooks by the Celtics and even hit another perimeter jumper with his whirling tornado ball. When I asked him about hitting a jumper after Thursday’s win, Noah brightened excitedly and declared, “You saw it!”

He extended a fist, which I realized after a few seconds was an invitation for a neo five. I know he’s skinny, but I still back off when a seven footer offers a fist toward me.

Hinrich had 10 points and a team high seven assists, but was taken advantage of by the taller Marquis Daniels in the post when the Celtics opened up the game in the second quarter.

Tyrus Thomas had a distracted night with 10 points, eight rebounds and five missed free throws in 24 minutes. He continues to spend way too much time complaining about fouls after every miss, and when the Celtics blew away the Bulls in the third quarter he was back arguing as Pierce ran ahead and got wide open for a second consecutive three with the defense scrambling to find five players with four bodies.

Though Miller did get a bit of revenge against Rondo when he bashed Rondo with an elbow setting a screen about eight minutes into the game. It clearly was a foul, though it wasn’t called and Garnett actually was called for a foul on the collision and Miller got two free throws to bring the Bulls within 15-13.

Yes, that was the highlight of the game for the Bulls.
The Celtics with their precision offense were executing the Bulls to death: Salmons followed Pierce over a Perkins screen and Noah was caught in the middle leaving Pierce wide open for a free throw line jumper. Eddie House, with 22 and a series of daggers in that Game 7 Boston win last spring, repeately got open off weak side screens with the Bulls collapsing toward the lane as the Bulls did a terrible job identifying the shooters.

The Celtics led 50-35 at halftime as the Bulls were 12 of 19 on free throws and 11 of 38 on field goals, including  one of eight on threes. They’re now five of 31 on threes through two games, and they’re just going to have to…practice.  Salmons isn’t a knock down three point marksman, but his career average is a respectable 36 percent and 41.7 percent last season. He can shoot. Hinrich is a career 38 percent three point shooter and 40.8 percent last season. Pargo is a career 36.5 percent three point shooter. They can make them. I’d keep trying.

Yes, I’ve been avoiding it, but there’s no avoiding that third quarter in which the Celtics were virtually perfect. Actually, the Bulls were pretty good in the third. They shot 54.5 percent and had eight assists on 12 field goals.

And ended up being blown away.

Because the Celtics were amazing.

“Paul said when we came into the locker room (at halftime), ‘Lets open up the third real big and lets be aggressive,’” related Garnett

It started badly for the Bulls and never stopped.

Rondo, who had two points, eight rebounds and 16 assists and was magnificent, grabbed offensive rebounds on the first two Celtics shots, the second setting up a Pierce three. Deng then missed badly, Rondo rebounded and got it to Pierce for a jumper and-boom!—the Bulls were down 20.

The Bulls actually ran several nice plays then, a Noah high low assist on a nice Rose baseline cut, Noah inside on a pass from Hinrich and Noah bulling it up lefthanded. Though when this was going on Allen, who had 20 points, was hitting a pair of threes as he lost Hinrich on a back door cut and then on a screen. So the Bulls scored three straight times and now were down 23.

It was then that Thomas got caught arguing, and he was fouled. But you don’t always get the calls. The Bulls began sagging inside  to try to contain Rondo.

“Rondo did a great job getting into the lane and we did a good job making the extra pass,” said Pierce, who was seven of seven in the third for 20 of his 22 points. “I just was converting on them. I made a couple and then, as a scorer, when you make one or two in a row, you feel like you’re on fire. Rondo getting to the lane, finding me in the third quarter and we was able to break the game open.” 

So Pierce got wide open on top for a pair of his five threes in the third, sending the Bulls into a timeout with 6:50 left and trailing 72-45.

This would have been my talk in the huddle: “Anyone got that guy!”

Last season, the Bulls after a home opening win were blown out in Boston in Game 2. The Bulls would take it again if they were playing a seventh game in the playoffs against the Celtics.

“It was an early season test for us,” said Del Negro, “and we didn’t respond real well.”

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