The Bulls are coming! And the Celtics are going


Jan 14

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.

It’s a new day, NBA. The Boston Celtics are dead. Long rule the new kids, the Bulls.

There’s no official passing of the torch in the NBA. But the Bulls with an impressive 88-79 victory over the Celtics in Boston Friday moved to the best record in the NBA at 11-2 with arguably the most difficult schedule leading the league in road games played and for much of the season without their second and third guards, Richard Hamilton and C.J. Watson.

Their first guard, the city’s latest basketball god, Derrick Rose, was out as well for the last game. But he returned Friday, sprained big toe and all, to score 25 points, including 12 in the decisive fourth quarter when the Celtics cut a 20-point deficit to one.

So after Paul Pierce missed a driving jumper with just over nine minutes left with a chance to take the lead and the Garden going retro, Rose took over:

— Switch hand drive weaving past Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal at the basket for a layup and 69-66 lead. “Just thinking of making the shot,” said Rose, who admitted being a bit tentative early in the game with his sore Sgt. Hulka. “Getting to the hole. If I was close enough, shoot the floater. But just be aggressive. In the past, they’ve been beating us pretty good. It’s something we haven’t forgotten. Thibs came in and changed the whole mindset, be a defensive team first and everything follows.”

— After O’Neal missed a fadeaway coming off the bench as Doc Rivers started Brandon Bass at center, Rose drove hard and was fouled, making both for a 71-66 lead with 9:01 left.

— Kevin Garnett, who’s become a soft—-or softer—player shooting a lot of fadeaways as well with little lift, much like Paul Pierce, did hit a short jump shot. But unable to counter Rose’s drives and the Bulls greater athleticism, Rivers called a zone defense, which is usually the last resort of poor defensive teams. It was a disaster for the Celtics. Carlos Boozer with 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists, was patient, looking for cracks in the zone and found Rose on top for a three and 74-68 lead. “They were giving me the shot,” said Rose. “I probably was out farther than I usually was and they didn’t come and contest.”

— Deng then grabbed a big rebound of a Pierce miss among three Celtics, one of a strong 16 along with 21 points. And then Joakim Noah hit a driving bank shot in a nice double/double effort as he and Boozer silenced critics for awhile, each playing almost the entire fourth quarter. “I think I did alright,” said Noah, who had 10 points and 12 rebounds as all five starters were in double figures. “I feel like I could still do better, but I’m not going to lie. It just felt good to be out there and compete. We are a very deep team. I think that we have a lot of talent and it can’t be about one person. It has to be about our team. Of course, everybody wants to play a lot, everybody wants more for themselves. But as long as we can keep ‘Me’ out of it and buy into what coach wants and all that and we can even get better.”

— Pierce with 13 points on four of 13 shooting then missed a jumper as he was badly dominated by Deng, who may have played his breakthrough game that gets him into the All-Star game with such a huge performance on national ESPN TV with the main announcing crew. “Lu is definitely going to make the All-Star team this year,” said Rose. “If he doesn’t that is cheating for sure.” Pressured on the perimeter as Boston used a hard show on the pick and roll all game on Rose, Rose found Noah, who went up and was fouled, making one of two for a 77-69 lead with 6:39 left.

— Ray Allen, chased relentlessly by Ronnie Brewer, who again shot well with five of 12, missed. And then after a Deng miss and a pair of Pierce free throws, Rose made another three for an 80-71 lead with 4:58 remaining. Bass drove and scored. But Brewer countered on a great find by Boozer. Then the Bulls defense smothered Boston with Brewer face guarding Allen so tightly he couldn’t get a shot until a wild miss at 24 seconds. Pierce, who seems to have more shots blocked now than “Baby” Davis, had his shot blocked by Noah, who turned around after a Brewer miss and got Garnett trying to go down the middle for his fourth block of the game. “I love the way Jo was so active tonight,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “He was blocking shots, going after the ball, and then his offense started coming around. So when he plays like that it’s good for us. What can you say about Loul Deng? Every night that guy is on the board, he gives us points, he plays great defense. He hits every big basket for you. Can’t say enough about him.”

— Rose then drove and spun at the basket, putting the ball in over his shoulder with his back to the basket for an 84-73 lead with 2:14 left that began to empty the arena and lead to chants for Brian Scalabrine to enter the game. And with Miami losing a third time on a Western Conference trip the Bulls mostly rolled through, first place doesn’t seem all that surprising to the Bulls.

“We’re not surprised the way we work,” said Rose. “Hell, no. Not surprised at all. Everybody on our team sacrifices a lot of things and dedicates themselves to making this team better. Everyone knows their role. That‘s what makes this a good team.”

The numbers say it as well as the Bulls have moved to the top of the league in defense and rebounding again–a 46-34 rebounding margin over Boston Friday and 24-14 in second chance points—winning by an average of more than 10 per game and moving into the top 10 in the major shooting categories.

And it was a complete effort Friday, though the bench wasn’t used quite as much. Which raises the question now of why Taj Gibson and Omer Asik were sitting in the fourth quarter and would they resent it.

Boozer, who has been the target of critics over such questioning, smiled and rolled his eyes when asked again Friday. You could almost hear him saying, “Lighten up, Francis.”

“We’re playing great,” Boozer said. “The record speaks for itself. We get contributions from everybody. It’s not a one or two man team. We’ve got the MVP to hold the fort down. Was he incredible tonight or what? Luol Deng is playing at an All-Star level. Me and Jo hold down the paint. Taj and Omer come off, Ronnie and Kyle hit big shots. It’s fun to watch.”

It was, certainly, to start as the Bulls overwhelmed the Boston Geezers to go up 26-13 after the first quarter with Deng and Boozer each scoring eight.

“I thought our starters played terrific,” said Thibodeau. “I thought our defense was very good. We feel the strength of our club is the depth up front. The advantage you have with those guys is some nights you may lean more toward defense. Some nights if you feel we’re struggling to score (Boozer returning early in the fourth in a Celtics run), you go another way. In most cases, it’s going to be Jo and Carlos down the stretch.”

Rose would say afterward he was unsure early about his sprained toe, though he did drive for a score to open the game. It’s just me, but with another back to back with lowly Toronto Saturday and in the middle of another four in five nights, I might give Rose Saturday off and get him back for Martin Luther King Day Monday. The Bulls were overwhelming a Boston jump shooting team with little movement to start. That wasn’t completely self inflicted as the Bulls do such a good job defensively. Their defender of the screener routinely steps out to force the ballhandler out and rotates back quickly. And they switch well with versatile defenders like Noah and Taj Gibson and Deng able to take on power forwards, as he did with Garnett often. They simply overwhelmed Boston, and on offense Brewer made a nice pitch back for a Deng three, Rose bounced a pass for a Noah slam dunk as Noah’s starting to come along though still gathering himself too often after catching or rebounding. Noah missed several point blank tips he says he’ll soon get as he works again more on his upper strength.

Boozer’s shot from the elbow was sure and Noah reluctantly hit one from the left baseline unguarded, which he usually is away from the rim, for the 26-11 lead. The Bulls looked like they’d end it in the second quarter despite 10 points of Allen’s team high 16. The Bulls had a 12-5 close to the first half that featured Rose gathering in his own miss and dunking two handed and Deng, with a double/double by halftime after 15 rebounds Wednesday, rejecting Pierce straight on as the Bulls took a 52-33 lead into the half.

“Luol guards everybody,” said Thibodeau. “He guards twos, he guards threes, he guards fours. He gets in there and battles with the bigs. He comes up with loose balls and big rebounds. Those are winning plays. That’s how you win in this league. It’s great leadership.”

The Celtics did fight back in the third quarter getting the Garden rocking. Noah had trouble finishing, missing a pair of dead on tips while the bench didn’t provide much this time. Meanwhile, the Celtics finally got on the boards with a couple of Bass offensive rebounds leading to scores and Rajon Rondo, by far Boston’s best player now and with 14 points and 11 assists for the game, finding shooters who finally became makers.

“I love what I saw in the second half,” said Boston’s Doc Rivers of his 4-6 team. “My question to them: Why did it take so long? Like I told our guys: ‘If we make it through, it will make you a hell of a basketball team. And I always use the word, ‘If’ because I have to.”

I wouldn’t count on it given their age, declining skill levels and lack of size up front.

But they can get on runs and make some shots. The Celtics closed the third 6-0 and opened the fourth 7-0, and suddenly the ghosts of old Celtic lore were said to be back. The Garden was vibrating. It was time for the kill.

And there to deliver it was Rose, Noah, Brewer, Boozer and Deng.

“Honestly, I’m not worried about (recognition),” said Deng, his legs wrapped with ice packs and feet in an ice bucket. “It’s the honest truth. I’m not worried about whether people talk about me or not. I’m really happy playing with a bunch of guys who love playing together. It makes me a better player. I’m just excited every night. I can’t even wait for tomorrow to play again. That’s the kind of group we have.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below: