Bulls looked good in Boston–until opening tip


Dec 4

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.

Well, I wouldn’t say the Bulls’ Friday 104-92 loss to the Boston Celtics went too badly.

The only real problems I saw were the Bulls’ offense, the Bulls’ defense, the Bulls’ rebounding, the Bulls’ toughness, the Bulls’ starters and the Bulls’ response.

Though I was impressed with coach Tom Thibodeau’s gray paisley tie with the sharp blue stripe.

“We are struggling defensively,” Thibodeau acknowledged.

“I thought we played low energy defensively instead of having greater fight down there. Keep the ball out of the paint. I didn’t think we did that. I thought defensively we gave in too much.  We got to do a better job of containing the ball. Our weak side has to be a lot more alert. We have to have better body position on cuts. All facets of our defense right now. Rebounding was a problem. That’s preventing us from getting out on the open floor and playing with pace and getting some easy baskets.  So, we are struggling to score”

Yes, but the meal on the charter plane was good, right?

This really was a brutal effort by the Bulls, worse in some ways than the Wednesday home blowout loss to the Orlando Magic.

Thank heaven for the Central Division, the NBA’s version of the NFC West, the only division without a double digit games winner. The Bulls are now sixth in the East and fading, though hanging onto a half game lead over the Pacers for first in the Central at 9-8.

But the distance between the top teams in the East, the Celtics and Magic for now, and the Bulls grew exponentially this week as both teams cut up the Bulls, pushed them around and outplayed them in virtually every facet of the game.

The spirit and resolve from that impressive Western Conference road trip last month seems long gone as Kevin Garnett battered Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer inside for 20 points, 17 rebounds and six assists, and Rajon Rondo constantly blew by Derrick Rose for a dozen points and 19 assists, many that left you just gasping with envy.

But worse than some of the Bulls losses in individual play was an unspeakable breakdown on defense with a lack of help or rotation, basic defensive principles the Bulls seeming to have mastered weeks ago now gone.

The Celtics shot 53 percent overall and outscored the Bulls in the paint 56-40. But the Celtics shooting percentage from two point range was almost 60 percent, and of the Celtics 43 field goals, 26 were layups or dunks, eight layups alone in the first quarter when the Bulls set the tone for the night by falling behind 31-19.

And then they were mocked, apparently not taken seriously, as Celtics fans spent most of the fourth quarter chanting for Brian Scalabrine and former Celtic Rasheed Wallace interrupted Thibodeau’s post game press conference to scream “Scalabrine” as Thibodeau addressed reporters.

Welcome back, Tom, you aren’t the rival you think you are.

That, perhaps, was the message the Celtics were sending after the great playoff series from a few years back and the Bulls overtime loss in Boston early last month.

“Very good opponents, rebounding… we’re still digging ourselves a hole we’ve been doing that all season,” said Carlos Boozer, who had 12 points and two rebounds in 21 minutes.  “First and third quarters we get behind and got to fight to get back.  Got to do a better job at that. We’ve done that all season. We’ve got to correct that.”

So, you can’t  blame Boozer for that as it has been happening.

Hello, Keith Bogans.

Look, Bogans played just 12 minutes and was scoreless. Ronnie Brewer has been getting the bulk of the playing time now at shooting guard, but you do need your “shooting guard” to, well, you know, shoot. Bogans was zero for one and now is averaging four attempts per game.

So he’s not exactly sinking the offense, but it does compound things when you don’t have a threat. So teams have figured out by now he’s not going to shoot, so you keep sending help at Rose. And Joakim Noah, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds though he was mostly being bullied by Shaquille O’Neal, rarely looks for shots early in the quarters. So defenses can get to stack up even more to open games and halves on Derrick Rose, who finished with 20 points and eight assists.

As a result, Boozer got several open looks as the defense leaned even more to Rose, Rose getting blitzed on every pick and roll with another defend behind. But in just his second game back since suffering a broken hand the first week of training camp, Boozer wasn’t sharp. He mostly came up short on uncontested jumpers, didn’t finish strong and missed a point blank layup.

No, he’s nowhere near ready for this level of NBA competition, but the Bulls have decided on the long view that it’s better to get him going no matter the results for awhile. So they could be ugly.

I also wouldn’t be surprised—and it would be understandable—if Boozer remains unsure about extending himself after missing so much time.

I noticed he never closed on shooters on defense and had difficulty rotating to help. He’s never been known as much of a defender, but you get the sense he’s not anxious yet to risk reinjuring his hand, even if it’s unlikely as the break is healed.

A few times in the third quarter after the Bulls got within 53-48 at halftime when the Celtics starters returned and retook the game, Brewer got beaten for layups and turned pleadingly to the inside guys to ask where the help was.

It never was there all game.

“They’re a hell of a team and that’s what we’re striving to be,  to be one of the best teams in the game,” said Noah, whose criticisms of Garnett clearly were on Garnett’s mind as the pair drew double technicals at one point in a game long elbowing and talking (at least from Garnett) contest. “I didn’t play well tonight. He (Garnett) got the win again, so hopefully we’ll get a win next time.”

About a month from now in Chicago.

Here was the transcript from Garnett’s post game interview regarding Noah:

Q: Did Joakim Noah’s comments influence your performance tonight?

A: “I’m going to tell you something about people, man. Everybody has an opinion, and obviously, he had one. I’m not entertaining nor addressing nobodies. I’m not even entertaining them. I’m focused on basketball and these wins and trying to make this team better. Other than that, I’m not on anything.”  

Q: Do you consider Joakim Noah a nobody?

A: “Next question.”

See, and we thought Garnett felt Charlie Villanueva was a nobody when Villanueva got into it with Garnett earlier this season.

Noah, if you cannot recall, called Garnett a dirty player  in last year’s playoffs when Garnett was suspended for throwing an elbow at Quentin Richardson, and earlier this season after the Bulls overtime loss in Boston, Noah went on ESPN 1000 in Chicago and said: “I don’t like him… he’s a very mean guy. Ugly, too… he was very mean to me my rookie year. And he’s only mean to the young guys and the [European players], for some reason. I don’t know why, but that’s who he doesn’t like. He’s not nice. I talk a lot of trash out there, but c’mon, be a little sensitive. Be sweet.”

But perhaps the Bulls are being a little too sweet.

They allowed Dwight Howard to throw down Rose twice last season and Howard threw everyone around Wednesday, and Friday O’Neal probably should have been called for a flagrant foul when he threw down Rose after Rose was driving and a foul already had been called in the first quarter.

Later, Rondo came down hard on Rose, and no foul was called, but the Bulls could hardly complain about a lack of fouls this time as they shot 34 free throws to 22 for Boston.

They had much bigger issues to consider as their lack of response was mostly on the floor.

It sounds nice to stand up and fight and not take anything and all that macho crap. But where you make your point is by playing harder and tougher and smarter. Like they say in baseball, you get up from a bean ball pitch and hit a home run. That’s the best response.

But it probably is time for a shakeup in the starting lineup.

The Celtics starters, though this is probably the East’s best team, demolished the Bulls’. The Bulls best play of the game was in the second and start of the fourth quarter with a reserve group that included C.J. Watson, Taj Gibson and Brewer. They cut that 12-point first quarter deficit immediately with Gibson starring and Watson doing a good job running things. I know Boozer is a higher level player than Gibson and in the long run should prove out, but right now Gibson is far more effective, both offensively and defensively, especially defensively. Though the Celtics did go with their reserves at those junctures.

I’m usually not much on that plus/minus stat, which gives you the score in points when you were on the floor. Obviously, there are variables depending on whom you play with. But Rose and Boozer had the worst among the Bulls, both in the minus 20’s. The best were Watson at plus-19 and Gibson at plus-11.

“I didn’t inspire them at all (at halftime),” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.  “I told them that it was my fault. I messed the rotations up.  The bench lost the lead for us.  You think about it: We didn’t do anything different than we did in the first quarter.  We played unbelievable the first eight minutes of the game, and then we got a sub and our bench gave up that lead.  Our first unit started that third quarter. They wanted to get the lead back and you could see that they wanted to get that lead back and they did.  But the lay-ups and the passing was phenomenal, and the defense that stretch was awesome as well.”

It really was beautiful basketball on the Celtics’ part if you didn’t care who won the game.

Rondo was terrific, beating Rose on the perimeter and bothering him on defense, though I thought the Bulls spacing broke down badly as Boozer seemed to be getting too close to Rose and bringing defenders with him, in addition to the two who always follow Rose, anyway.

The Celtics opened the game with Garnett going at Boozer, and Boozer hasn’t learned that hand up in the face close out Thibodeau is always screaming about. Shaq, who had 12 points and five rebounds before fouling out in 20 minutes, did a nice job sealing Noah and dunking on him, and the Celtics dissected the Bulls with simple screen action plays and cut for easy, basically uncontested layups.

When the Celtics starters played the most, there were those eight layups in the first quarter and 11 in the third. At one point in the third, the Celtics had five straight layups.

The Bulls came back in that second quarter to tie at 36 and then at 45 just before the Garnett/Noah elbowing double technical. Garnett then got deep in the post for a score as the Bulls also gave position away too readily. But the Bulls got within five at halftime on a Luol Deng three as he had 15 with a trio of three pointers.

The Bulls did seem to come out aggressively after halftime with a Noah tipin and Boozer score to get within one after Noah blocked Shaq.

But the Celtics knocked the ball loose from Rose for a Rondo layup that began a Celtics run of scores on 10 straight possessions with Rondo scooping up a loose ball for a layup and scoring on a Shaq pass for another layup. Then Ray Allen with 14 and Paul Pierce with 18 ran easily off screens for uncontested layups with no backside help on either occasion. When Rondo ran out of time and lofted a 22 footer for a swish, the Celtics were back ahead by 17 and the Bulls would not get it out of double digits for the rest of the game.

“The thing is the games keep coming,” said Thibodeau. “We got into this together, we got to get out of it together. We have to fight a lot harder. We’re capable. We’ll play better. We have to put more into it. Defensively we are hanging (our heads) a little bit. We can’t do that. We can’t allow our offense (missed shots) to affect us defensively. I thought we played low energy defensively instead of having greater fight down there. They are a great shooting team. You got to challenge their shots. They are also posting the ball a lot more. We have to fight harder.”

Or at all. You know, like about a week ago.

What do you think? Leave a comment below: