Unfortunately, after leading by as many as 17 points (71-54) early in the fourth quarter, the Bulls suffered a complete meltdown on offense and defense. From that point, Brooklyn outscored Chicago 22-8 and came within one wide-open three-point attempt by C.J. Watson of forcing overtime.
No, it wasn’t pretty, but the Bull will take the win thankyouverymuch.
Said Carlos Boozer: ”We did what we had to do to win the game. In the playoffs, you have to win different ways. Nothing is perfect.”
Boozer knows what he’s talking about. He led the Bulls in scoring (22 points on 9-for-15 shooting) and ripped down a game-high 16 rebounds, but he also committed a game-worst 4 turnovers. That said, Boozer’s offense carried the Bulls through various dismal stretches that saw them shoot 39 percent as a team.
Said Taj Gibson: ”One thing about Carlos that people don’t understand (is) that he does his job every day. He’s there early, a great teammate, he’s always going to give you 110 percent in practice and he understands what it takes. He did a phenomenal job late. Like Thibs said, when we watch film, Thibs was really calling guys out and one thing about Carlos — he responded. Thibs told him to (play more) help-side defense, step up on defense, and give support towards the point guard and he’s been doing that. I think that’s one of things people don’t understand (about him). It’s a small thing but on our team that’s big for us.”
Added Luol Deng: ”I thought Carlos hit some big shots. They made some runs and he just kept coming up huge. He was big for us. Carlos has been playing great and we just got to keep going to him and giving him looks. He’s playing so well right now and the baskets he hit tonight were really huge. (The Nets) kind of felt like they got momentum and Carlos would come back and answer.”
Even so, closing out the Nets was a struggle to the bitter end.
Still, as Boozer said, the Bulls did what they had to do. Especially Luol Deng. Lu didn’t shoot the ball particularly well — 1-for-6 on threes and 9-for-23 overall — but he had 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and had an incredible stretch to open the third quarter.
That stretch started with three long jumpers from 20, 17 and 16 feet. He then stunned Gerald Wallace with a wicked crossover that sent Wallace stumbling to the floor before stepping back to nail a three-pointer from 26 feet out. On Chicago’s next possession, Deng drove past Wallace and hit a layup as Wallace fouled him, then converted the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play.
Deng’s explosion turned a 41-34 halftime lead into a 53-38 lead that had the Nets on their heels.
Said Deng: ”I had a few good minutes. I felt like I could have shot the ball a lot better. I don’t know how many minutes, seven or so of great minutes. They could have sent me home after that.”
And Deng wasn’t just abusing Wallace on offense. He also abused him on defense. Wallace — who clearly isn’t right in the head right now — finished with 5 points on 2-for-8 shooting in 25 minutes.
Past that, it seems like Chicago’s defense has largely figured out Deron Williams (5-for-14 from the field, 3-for-8 on threes, 4 assists) and the injured Joe Johnson (6-for-14), and Andray Blatche (3-for-9) and Watson (1-for-8) seem to have left their shooting touch back in Game 1.
All that said, the Bulls still can’t put the stops on Brook Lopez, who scored 22 points (8-for-16), grabbed 9 rebounds and blocked 7 shots. Lopez seems to make something happen every time he touches the ball, regardless of who’s guarding him, even Joakim Noah.
Speaking of Jo…
Noah had a rough night. A very rough night. Before the game began, Noah provided a graphic description of what it feels like to play with plantar faciitis: “It feels like you have needles underneath your foot while you’re playing. You can imagine. You need to jump. You need to run. You need to do a lot of things while you’re playing basketball. You don’t want needles on your feet, right?”
No, Joakim, I do not.
Well, during Game 3, Noah looked like he was running on broken glass and rusty nails with needles on his feet. He snared 8 boards and blocked a couple shots, but he was 0-for-5 at the rim and 0-for-7 from the field overall. Noah looked uncomfortable running and awkward handling the basketball. He couldn’t elevate toward or around the basket. And the Bulls were outscored by 13 points during his 27 minutes on the floor, making him the only member of the starting lineup that had a negative plus-minus score.
But Noah’s worth goes well beyond what we can see in a box score, and the Bulls are better spiritually if not statistically when Joakim is available to play.
Said Deng: ”Jo does so much and he’s not going to complain about his feet or anything. We just got to make sure — the game is over, he feels great, he’s got to make sure he’s got to do what’s necessary to give us whatever he can next game but you could see he’s huge for us. When Jo is at his best or even close to that, we’re tough.”
The question is: Can Noah be at his best with so little rest between a late Thursday night game and an early afternoon game on Saturday?
Said Noah: ”It’s hurting. It’s hurting, but overall I’m just happy we won. We don’t have a lot of time to rest but I’ll get as much treatment as I can and be ready for Game 4.”
Noah might not be the only heavy-footed player on Saturday. Thibodeau coaxed big minutes out of Deng (44), Boozer (40) and Kirk Hinrich (40). Boozer and Deng obviously were needed for scoring and rebounding. Hinrich had a decent offensive game (12 points and 2 assists) despite missing all three of his three-point attempts. But Captain Kirk’s real value has been his defense on Williams, which has been brutal since Game 1.
Said Nate Robinson: “Kirk is doing a hell of a job on him. And together as a whole we do a great job of helping each other out but it started with Kirk on Deron. Great job.”
The Bulls also once again got a big lift from Nazr Mohammed (6 rebounds, 5 points, 2 assists). His numbers might not make your eyes pop out of your head, but the Bulls were +13 during his 16 minutes on the floor, which was the team’s best plus-minus number on the night.
And depending on how Noah’s foot feels tomorrow, Mohammed might have to log more minutes in Game 4.
The Bulls won the rebounding battle 48-42, which included a 9-7 edge on the offensive glass. This is an important point, because the Nets were an elite offensive rebounding team during the regular season.
The Nets had a 30.9 offensive rebound percentage in the regular season, the third highest rate in the league. Thursday against the Bulls, the Nets had an offensive rebound percentage of 15.2%, the lowest in any game this season (including playoffs).
Quote of the Game: Said Noah: “It’s not going to be pretty. We have to grind it out, tough it out. This is our style of play. Go out and fight. We’ve dealt with so much this year; to just win is huge. So, it’s not easy, it’s not pretty…but it is rewarding.”
Play of the Game:
I felt like this play defined the win. The effort, the hustle, the defense, the teamwork. It’s all there.
Dunk of the Game:
Taj Gibson made Kris Humphries family cry with this second-quarter dunk.
Reasons for Concern:
Obviously, turnovers can be a problem for the Bulls, and they were tonight. Chicago gave up 18 points off 15 turnovers.
But a bigger concern might be inside scoring. The Bulls shot a miserable 9-for-27 (33.4%) at the rim and scored only 26 points in the paint. And as I mentioned above, Lopez looked like Bill Russell, stuffing a total of 7 shots in the game.
Remember, in Game 1, the Bulls scored only 36 points in the paint while going 14-for-29 (48.3%) at the rim. And they lost that game. The Bulls are a poor outside shooting team and can’t rely on jumpers to win this series.
Game 1 in Brooklyn: Saturday at 7 p.m.
Game 2 in Brooklyn: Monday at 7 p.m.
Game 3 in Chicago: Thursday, April 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Game 4 in Chicago on Saturday, April 27 at 1 p.m.
Game 5* in Brooklyn on Monday, April 29 (TBD)
Game 6* in Chicago on Thursday, May 2 (TBD)
Game 7* in Brooklyn on Saturday, May 4 (TBD)
The Bulls won the season series 3-1. Here’s a breakdown of those f our games:
December 15, 2012: Bulls win 83-83 in Chicago behind Marco Belinelli (19 points) and Joakim Noah (12 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocked shots). Kirk Hinrich missed the game with a knee injury, which meant a big game for Deron Williams (24 points, 10-for-13 from the free throw line, 5 assists, 2 steals and a block). Still, the Bulls got key stops down the stretch, and rookie Marquis Teague (20 minutes, 8 points, 4-for-6, 2 assists) forced Williams into a tough miss in the closing seconds. Said Teague: ”I was just trying to contain him, just keep him in front of me. It’s hard to keep a player like that from scoring.”
It’s probably worth noting that the Nets were playing their fourth game in five nights and were coming off a double-overtime game against the Pistons the night before. It’s also worth noting that Brook Lopez (18 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocked shots) played just 25 minutes in his second game back after missing seven games with a right foot injury.
The Bulls held Brooklyn to 38 percent shooting and outscored them 42-30 in the paint, but the Nets outrebounded the Bulls 41-33.
February 1: Nets win 93-89 in Brooklyn behind Brook Lopez (20 points, 9-for-16, 4 rebounds) and strong play off the bench from MarShon Brooks (13 points, 3 assists, 2 steals) and Andray Blatche (11 points, 5-for-7, 3 rebounds). The Bulls — who were without Carlos Boozer (hamstring), Joakim Noah (plantar faciitis) and Kirk Hinrich (right elbow) — actually had a four-point lead going after three quarters but then shot 8-for-18 and got outscored 30-22 in the fourth. In fact, Chicago’s fourth quarter points were matched by Brooks and Blatche alone. Said Joe Johnson: ”MarShon and Blatche, man, carried us in that fourth quarter.”
The always short-handed Bulls got 18 points a piece from Luol Deng and Marco Belinelli plus a double-double from Nate Robinson (12 points and 11 assists) and a near double-double from Taj Gibson (16 points and 9 rebounds).
The Nets shot 52 percent and outscored the Bulls 56-44 in the paint. Brooklyn also won the rebounding battle 40-29. Meanwhile, Chicago was 1-for-14 from three-point range.
March 2: Bulls win 96-85 in Chicago behind the frontcourt dominance of Joakim Noah (21 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks, 2 steals) and Carlos Boozer (20 points, 8 rebounds, 5 steals, 3 assists, 1 blocked shot). As usual, the Bulls were two men down — Rip Hamilton (back spasms) and Taj Gibson (knee) — and Luol Deng was still recovering from getting elbowed in the mouth by Philadelphia’s Spencer Hawes two days prior…a blow that left with internal bleeding in the mouth (Deng went on to say his “whole bottom jaw is out of line” and that he may eventually need root canals to repair the damage).
Brook Lopez scored 14 points in the first quarter and finished with 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting. However, thanks to Kirk Hinrich’s pesky defense, Deron Williams (14 points, 4-for-12, 6 assists) had a very average game. Note that Joe Johnson (11 points, 5-for-10, 5 turnovers) was playing in his second game back after missing three games with a foot injury.
The Bulls shot 52 percent while the Nets committed 21 turnovers for 24 points going the other way.
April 4: The Bulls win 92-90 in Brooklyn behind a monster game from Carlos Boozer (29 points, 12-for-22, 18 rebounds) and strong performances from Luol Deng (18 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists) and Jimmy Butler (16 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block). This win was especially impressive considering the Bulls pulled it off on the road without Joakim Noah (plantar faciitis), Marco Belinelli (abdominal strain), Rip Hamilton (back spasms) and Taj Gibson (knee injury). All that and Kirk Hinrich fouled out with 3:38 remaining.
Said Nate Robinson (12 points, 4-for-8, 5 assists): “For us, it’s big. Kirk fouled out. You got Marco out. Rip out. D-Rose out. Taj out. Guys are just stepping up, man, and that’s what teams do. You got Jo out and [Nazr Mohammed] stepping in for him. These guys are coming in and it’s like old school wrestling. Tag team. You know when one guy goes in, tag him, the other guy go out. Back and forth. We just got to keep playing and keep doing that, we’ll be OK.”
On defense, the Bulls got lit up by Deron Williams (30 points, 9-for-16, 10 assists) and Brook Lopez (28 points, 10-for-19, 5 rebounds). Of course, Lopez scored 18 of those points on 8-for-9 shooting in the first quarter then scored only 10 on 2-for-10 shooting over the final three quarters. Lopez also turned goat in the final minute by turning the ball over, getting a layup attempt stuffed and then missing a baseline jumper in the closing seconds that would have forced overtime. Joe Johnson (12 points, 4-for-11, 2 steals) was playing his first game back after missing five games with a sore left heel.
The Bulls dominated the boards (46-30) and scored 21 points off 16 Brooklyn turnovers. The Nets kept things even by going to the line 30 times.
In terms of production by position, the Nets usually win the point guard and center match-ups thanks to the play of Deron Williams (18.9 PPG, 7.7 APG, 20.3 PER) and Brook Lopez (19.4 PPG, 52% shooting, 24.7 PER). This will put a lot of pressure on Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah on defense. This means that Noah’s plantar faciitis could be a huge factor in this series. Lopez averaged 22 points on 53 percent shooting in four games against the Bulls this season…and that can’t be allowed to continue.
Williams had that one big game against the Bulls, but his overall numbers against Chicago’s D were pretty humble (19.8 PPG, 42% shooting, 6.8 APG, 3.2 TO). Still, Williams was on fire in April, averaging 24.6 points and 8.4 assists while shooting 52 percent over that eight-game stretch.
As for the Bulls, their biggest upsides in terms of production by position were at the small forward and power forward positions. And Carlos Boozer certainly had his way with the Nets, averaging 21.3 points and 10.7 rebounds while shooting 54 percent against them. And note that Boozer missed Chicago’s only loss to the Nets with a hamstring injury.
Unfortunately, Deng didn’t have quite as much success. In the four-game series, Deng averaged 15.3 points on 39 percent shooting to go with 6.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
Still, assuming a reasonably healthy roster, the Bulls have a major size advantage over the Nets. With Boozer, Deng, Gibson, Noah and Mohammed, Chicago will need to bully Brooklyn inside and dominate the rebounding battle. The Bulls will have to be especially mindful of their defensive backboards because the Nets are a premier offensive rebounding team.
Assuming the Bulls frontcourt can impose its will while slowing down Lopez, that leaves Bulls coach Tom Thibodea with the task for designing defensive schemes to neutralize Williams. Considering the job he’s done on superstars like Kobe Bryant in the past, I’d be willing to bet Thibs (with help from Hinrich and possibly even Jimmy Butler) comes up with something.
If Thibodeau’s schemes focus on stopping Lopez and Williams, then guys like Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace are going to have to really pick up their games, which didn’t happen against the Bulls in the regular season.
Zach Lowe of Celtics Hub was kind enough to answer a few Leprechaun-related questions leading into the Bulls-Celtics playoff series.
1. With Kevin Garnett, the Celtics surrender only 90.8 PPG. Without him, they’re giving up 99.4 PPG and (gulp) 107.5 PPG versus playoff teams. Why can’t they stop people sans KG?
I think these numbers are a little skewed by some games against lesser opponents in which the Celtics either came out flat or were short-handed beyond just missing KG. I’m thinking specifically of games like an early March game at New Jersey (111 points allowed) and the mid-March at Chicago.
When they’ve focused, they’ve shown they can play defense without KG. They held the Cavs and Magic to 94 and 86 points, respectively, in consecutive games in early March. Of course, the defense is less consistent without KG for all the reasons you’d expect — the other bigs don’t rotate down low quite as quickly or show out on the screen/roll as well. There is a level of precision and crispness that is lost without KG and won’t ever be there without him. But there is enough defensive ability left to win in the playoffs, in part because Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins have both become elite defenders at their positions.
2. Conversely, without Garnett, they score a little better (103.2 PPG versus 99.9 PPG) and their shooting improves (49.8 comparied to 48.0). Why is that? Are they really a more efficient scoring team without Kevin?
I don’t think the Celtics would put up better offensive numbers without KG over a larger sample size. Other players (especially Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Glen Davis and even Perk) have stepped up their scoring without KG without sacrificing much, if anything, in terms of shooting percentages. It has been a pleasant surprise. But there are more easy baskets to be had when KG’s in the line-up — because of his consistently great shooting and his interior passing. Things just seem like less work, and I think the number, over a full 82 games (or more), would reflect that.
3. As a team, the Celtics withstood KG’s absence better than anybody could have predicted. I mean, how many teams could win 62 games when their best player misses almost a third of the season? But up until now, they had the hope of Kevin’s return to sustain them. How do you suppose the latest news will affect their group psyche?
I think the Celtics are strong mental team, and I think they will come out hungry and eager to prove themselves as worthy champions. Paul Pierce said today that “guys have to be ready to step up” and that “we know we’re still a pretty good team and capable of winning a championship.” Ray Allen has talked about how a championship would be “sweeter” given the KG adversity. This is a proud, proud team — you saw that on Sunday during the Cleveland blow-out and again Tuesday when they beat an amped-up Philly team even without Ray Allen and KG (and with no reason to work so hard). Paul Pierce was screaming at the team in the huddle during the second quarter because the defense was so sloppy.
I think they’ve been preparing themselves for this eventuality for a while. Even Glen Davis has talked often about how he plays with a different intensity when KG is not in the line-up, because he knows he has more responsibility. This team will play hard, and they will truly believe they can and should win every game.
4. The Bulls are, primarily, a perimeter team that relies on streaky shooting and a steady diet of drive-and-kicks. How will the C’s defend that?
If the Bulls get overly reliant on perimeter jumpers, the Celtics should defend them well. The team generally closes out on shooter, and they rarely make mistakes or fall too far behind in their rotations. There’s a reason the Celtics finished second overall in defensive efficiency (and were #1 for most of the season) and were held opponents to the fifth-lowest three-point shooting percentage in the league. They don’t allow a lot of easy jumpers — especially from the most efficient parts of the floor.
That said, the quickness advantage Thomas and Noah have over the Celtics bigs worries me. If Derrick Rose can break down the defense either through one-on-one penetration or screen/rolls, I worry that as the C’s big men help, Thomas and Noah will be able to find the right spots on the floor before Davis/Powe/Perkins can get back to them. I also worry about Rose’s ability to finish around the rim. He’s so athletic, and so good at going around big guys standing straight up.
5. With the possibly exception of Tyrus Thomas, the Celtics seem to have an advantage (at best) or a stalemate (at worst) at virtually every position. Are there any matchups that worry you?
I think I may have answered this question a little bit above. Rose scares me. I think Rondo is a very good defensive player, but I think his ability to keep quick guards in front of him is a little over-rated — it’s why he resorts to trying to poke the ball away from behind so often. If Brad Miller and Ty Thomas are stretching the C’s defense by hitting 20-footers, it will put a let of pressure on Boston defensively.
On the positive side (for us), I don’t see how Chicago can stop Boston consistently. With Salmons hampered by a groin injury and Deng out, I don’t seen anyone who can guard Pierce. I think Rondo will blow by Rose just as easily (if not more easily) than Rose will beat Rondo on the other end, and Perkins, because of his size, has a chance to score 10-12 points per game in this series. Ray Allen should also have an easy time getting shots off when Hinrich is on the bench.
The basics: The Chicago Bulls (41-41) versus the Boston Celtics (62-20). The Bulls are 28-13 at home (yay!) but only 13-28 on the road (boo!). Meanwhile, the Celtics are 35-6 in Boston (the third-best home record in the league) and 27-14 outside of Beantown (tied for the second-best road record). Is it a bad sign for the Bulls that Boston’s road record is almost as good as Chicago’s home record? Yeah, probably.
Advanced stuff: The Bulls rank 19th in offensive efficiency (105.1 points per 100 possessions) and 18th in defensive efficiency (105.8 points given up per 100 possessions). The C’s? They’re 6th (108.1) and 2nd (99.4), respectively. Boston also has the edge in rebounding: They’re 2nd in the NBA with a rebounding rate (the percentage of missed shots that a team rebounds) of 52.8. Chicago ranks 20th (49.6). It turns out Boston isn’t just better offensively, defensively and on the boards…they’re way better. As bad signs go, that ranks somewhere between waking up next to a bloody corpse and finding out that Soylent green is people.
The season series: The Leprechauns won it 2-1.
Bad news for the Bulls: The Celtics won both games in Boston by an average of 17 points. Chicago shot 29.8 percent in the first game. They then lost the second contest by 18 despite shooting 50 percent both from the field and beyond the arc. That might have something to do with the fact that the C’s hit almost 60 percent of their field goal attempts (including 12-for-24 from downtown).
Good news for the Bulls: They did manage to win in the Celtics’ only trip to the United Center. It was an exciting (if rather defenseless) 127-121 affair in which John Salmons matched his career-high by scoring 38 points on sizzling 14-for-20 shooting. Some people felt the victory was marred by the fact that Kevin Garnett missed the game with that pesky knee injury. But, as it turns out, KG’s knee hasn’t gotten any better…and he won’t suit up for this series. Or maybe at all during this postseason. Bad news for Boston fans is good news for the Chicago faithful.
Reality check: The champs weren’t only missing Garnett. They also were without Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Tony Allen and Brian Scalabrine, and they lost Leon Powe a few minutes into the game after he bruised his right knee in a collision with Ben Gordon. The Celtics might be sans Garnett, but those other guys — well, except for Scalabrine — are back and ready to go. Oh, and Salmons’ ongoing groinal dysfunction will probably prevent him from enjoying any more scoring explosions.
A slight ray of hope: No matter how you look at it, the Celtics aren’t the same team without Garnett. They were “only” 18-7 without him (versus 44-13 with him). And they enjoyed far more success against non-playoff teams (10-2) than squads headed for the postseason (8-5). In fact, they’re giving up 107.5 PPG to playoff teams when KG isn’t around to bolster the D.
Celtics player to watch: Paul Pierce. He’s really picked up his game in KG’s absence, scoring 24.1 PPG while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 41.0 in threes. And, uh, he’s pretty much owned the Bulls this season: 22.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 56.8 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from threeland. And John Salmons, who will have to guard Pierce, is hobbling around with an injured groin. This could get ugly.
Bulls player to watch: Derrick Rose. His season averages against Boston — 14.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 4.7 APG, 42.9 percent shooting — weren’t the stuff of legends, and Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (14.7 PPG, 10.3 APG, 55.6 percent shooting versus Chicago) pretty much had his way. But this kid is already the Bulls’ best player. He’s got to be aggressive and set the tone offensively if the Chi-towners are going to have any hope at all of winning a game, let alone the series.
Key(s) to the series: First, Boston’s second-best-in-the-league defense. If the Bulls aren’t extremely careful, the C’s D might smother them like a kitten in a burlap sack. (Warning: Do not put kittens in burlap sacks…they’re so cute!) Second, Chicago’s bottom-half-of-the-league defense. The Bulls aren’t stopping anybody. If they’re forced to outscore the Celtics, well, it’s going to be a short series.
Fun fact: This will be the fourth time the Bulls have faced the Celtics in the playoffs. Boston won all three previous series in sweeps (4-0, 3-0 and 3-0). There is an odd symmetry to it all, though: In the first two series (in 1981 and 1986), the Celtics were on their way to a championship. In the third series (1987) and this one, the C’s were defending their title.
Prediction: Unless something unthinkable (like, say, Paul Pierce’s right leg falls off) or bizarre (like both of Paul’s legs fall off) happens, the Celtics should win this series 4-1. Unless John Salmons gets a bionic groin implant. But then again, if a man can cut steel with a piece of bacon — yes, it’s happened — then why can’t the Bulls beat the Kevin Garnett-less Celtics? As KG himself has pointed out: ANYTHING IS POSSIBLLLLLLLLEEEE!!!!