Luol Deng definitely deserved a hug after abusing Paul Pierce.
Okay, let me get the extenuating circumstances out of the way. The “Boston Celtics” were playing without their best player (Kevin Garnett), their top reserve (Rasheed Wallace), and another key roleplayer (Marquis Daniels). Due to the extreme shorthandedness, the “Celtics” starters have been putting in a lot of PT, particuarly Rajon Rondo, who has now logged 41-50 minutes in eight of the last 10 games. Furthermore, the “Celtics” were playing the second night of back-to-backs and their fourth game in five nights, so they clearly had weary legs.
And did I mention Brian Scalabrine started at power forward?
The Bulls are finally healthy — well, for the most part — and actually have something resembling a set rotation. After a season-opening slump caused by a bum ankle, Derrick Rose is Derrick Rose again. Joakim Noah is very nearly an All-Star-caliber center. Luol Deng is a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. Rookie Taj Gibson has been an unexpected but exceedingly pleasant surprise. John Salmons has been much improved since losing his starting job to Kirk Hinrich. For that matter, Hinrich has been better too. And Tyrus Thomas, although as on-again/off-again as ever, has been bringing energy off the bench.
These Bulls aren’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but let’s be honest: after winning seven of their last 10 games, it’s very reasonable to say this is the way people expected the Bulls to play all this season.
Rose (17 points, 8-for-16, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) made some spectacular drives, including one in which he made Rondo look like Yi Jianlian’s chair and then finished over Celtics center Kendrick Perkins. A few minutes later, Rose followed that play up with a left-handed finish. His explosiveness, quite clearly, is back. Plus, he’s now striking a balance between drives, floaters and pull-up jumpers. After not making David Thorp’s list of the top 10 sophopmores earlier this season, Rose is now leading all second-year players in scoring at 18.7 PPG.
As for Deng, he may have a broken thumb, but he’s been shooting lights out the last two games (21-for-31). And last night, Deng scored a game-high 25 points thanks to a hot hand and an aggressive streak that earned him a co-game-high 10 free throw attempts. Quite frankly, he abused former Finals MVP Paul Pierce, who had no idea how to defend him.
Noah (15 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocked shots) stood up the Perkins, who is as strong and physical a player as anybody this side of Shaq. He also showed some real aggressiveness in the fourth quarter, during which he scored 8 of his points to help the Bulls seal the deal. Most impressive was his running left-handed hook shot with 53 seconds left. Noah never would have attempted a shot like that in that kind of situation last season. He has worked really hard on his game…and it shows.
As a team, the Bulls outplayed Boston across the board. Chicago had the edge in rebounding (50-39, including 15-9 on the offensive glass), assists (20-17), steals (9-6), blocked shots (10-5), fast break points (13-10), points in the paint (48-42), and points off turnovers (16-11). Simply put, the Bulls hustled more and worked harder than the Celtics did.
Said Rose: “It’s probably the most complete game we’ve played all year.”
He may be right.
Of course, the Celtics — who never led after going up 2-0 — crippled themselves by bricking 13 free throws. Pierce and Rondo both missed four times, Perkins shanked three of seven, and Glen “Big Baby” Davis went 2-for-4. Kicking away freebies can haunt a team, and they certainly haunted Boston last night.
About the only thing that didn’t go right for the Bulls last night was their bench play. Chicago’s reserves scored only 14 points on 6-for-25 shooting. However, they did contribute 17 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals (all by Tyrus) and 2 blocks (both by James Johnson). Plus, Tyrus had a great hustle play that earned him some face time with Doug Collins and Kevin Harlan…
If, by some wild series of circumstances, these two teams meet in the playoffs again and the “Celtics” are the Celtics again, it’s hard to imagine the Bulls doing what they did last night. But so what? It’s good to see the “Bulls” have finally playing like the Bulls their fans hoped they’d be.
Although the Bulls have been notoriously week on the offensive end this season, check out some of these advanced stats: Chicago ranks 3rd in Offensive Rebounding Rate (28.9), 5th in Total Rebounding Rate (51.7), 7th in Defensive Efficiency (101.2 Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions), and 8th in Defensive Rebounding Rate (74.3). It’s worth noting that the Bulls’ two most glaring weaknesses last season were defense and defensive rebounding. It’s clear the coaching staff and players addressed these problems and improved them significantly.
TrueHoop Network: Zach Lowe of CelticsHub: “When the Bulls improvised, or when the ball went up on the glass? That’s when they scored. That’s when the Celtics looked slow and unprepared. When the Bulls pushed the ball, they got good looks. (And it doesn’t help when Glen Davis forgets who he’s guarding in delayed transition, allowing Taj Gibson to receive a pass wide-open at the foul line, draw Ray Allen away from Kirk Hinrich in the weak side corner and dish the ball Kirk for an easy three that stopped a C’s run in the 2nd). Or how about that nifty little set when Rose dribbles at the top of the key and Brad Miller creeps up as if he’s going to set a high screen, only he’s not really going to—he just wants the defenders to think he is so they’ll anticipate it and move themselves slightly out of position, allowing Rose to drive away from the “screen” and blow by both of them. (This happened three times, twice with Shelden Williams — defending Miller — looking completely bewildered and failing to help at all).”
Early on in this series, I could have accepted and might even have been pleased with a moral victory. But that was then, and right now all I can see is a wasted opportunity that — in my mind, if not yet in fact — cost my team its last best chance of advancing to the second round of the playoffs. And yeah, it left me feeling like Mr. Furious…only I have slightly better fashion sense.
The first lesson in Playoffs 101 is: It’s never over ’till it’s over. With 7:18 left in the fourth quarter, Derrick Rose hit a nifty little jumper to put the Bulls up by 10 points (83-73), and it looked like the injury-riddled and increasingly weary champions were on the ropes. Every Chicago player was fighting so hard and playing so well that it looked they were really going to steal the Leprechaun’s lucky charms. As it turned out, the exact opposite was true. The Celtics became the aggressors and suddenly the Bulls were on their heels and falling over backward. (Or, in poor Kirk Hinrich’s case, right on his face.)
Over the next five minutes, Boston went on a 14-6 run that featured three layups by Rajon Rondo to cut Chicago’s lead to two (89-87) before Vinny Del Negro finally called a timeout to jam some gauze in the wound (although not before he let seven seconds run off the shot clock). I don’t know, maybe he was afraid of running out of timeouts after all the heat he took after Game 2. Or maybe he dozed off. I can’t be sure.
Maddeningly, Joakim Noah had his layup attempt blocked coming out of that timeout. Luckily for the Bulls, John Salmons nabbed the offensive board. Less than 10 seconds later, Salmons missed a three-pointer that was rebounded by Derrick Rose, who eventually managed to convert that third chance into a layup. Unfortunately, Rondo got downcourt in a hurry and hit another layup — his fourth of the quarter — after which Salmons had a short jump shot blocked by Kendrick Perkins, which led to a fast break layup for Paul Pierce that tied the game at 91-all. Timeout Chicago.
The breather didn’t help, because Rose immediately turned the ball over. It was Derrick’s sixth bumble of the game and his 20th in the last three games. I love this kid, I really do, but damn I wish he was taking better care of the ball. The teams traded possessions before Ben Gordon squeezed past Stephon Marbury and hit an absolutely ridiculous 17-footer with 16 seconds left. (Before the shot, Doug Collins practically screamed out “What is he doing?!”) Chicago by two.
Since Ray Allen had fouled out several minutes earlier — which should have turned the game irrevocably in the Bulls’ favor, right? — the ball went to Paul Pierce, who tied the game with a cold-blooded 15-footer. One ugly and ill-advised Gordon shot later, it was on to overtime. Again.
Pierce wasn’t done. Despite the fact that his shot had been broken most of the night, Paul dropped three straight bombs — from 16, 18 and 20 feet out — in the final 77 seconds of the OT. His final dagger, that 20-footer over a suddenly shell-shocked John Salmons, gave the C’s a 106-104 lead with three seconds left. Well, crap. Seems like I read somewhere that there’s no such thing as a hot hand. I guess science lied to me again.
Three ticks of the clock isn’t a lot of time, but Chicago ran a picture perfect play that was aided by some confused Boston defense, which gave Miller a wide-open lane straight to the bucket. Rondo stepped in and clubbed Brad across the face, not even close to a play on the ball, which these days is supposed to be a flagrant foul. However, I’ve been asked to refrain from wagging any fingers at the officials, so I’m not going to complain about that particular ripoff call. (But for the record, Charles Barkley agrees with me.)
What I am going to scream and kick about is the fact that Miller — who came into this game 11-for-13 (84.6 percent) from the line for the series — shanked the first free throw. (I can’t be too hard on the guy, though, considering Rondo’s hack job left him bleeding from the mouth.) That was the game. Brad had to miss the next freebie on purpose in the vain hope that one of his teammates might be able to corral the board and put it back in. No such luck. (He didn’t even hit the rim.) And the Celtics escaped with the win.
I guess that, in some ways, this defeat had a karmic feel to it. After all, the Bulls probably should have lost Game 4 because of missed foul shots. They were much better today, though, going 27-for-30 before those final (and fatal) two bricks. It was an yet another epic game in a classic series that , sadly, ended in a soul-crushing loss for the Bullies. And now its back to the United Center for a do-or-die Game 6. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go throw up in my own mouth now.
Boston Celtics player notes: With Pierce struggling for most of the game and Ray Allen (10 points, 3-for-8) limited to 26 minutes before fouling out, Boston once again turned to Rondo (game-high 28 points, 8 rebounds, 11 assists). Hell, he was even 2-for-2 from downtown. (I thought that kid couldn’t shoot!) Rajon got some big help from “Big Baby” Davis (21 points, 7-for-11 from the field, 7-for-8 from the line) and Kendrick Perkins (game-high 19 rebounds, game-high 7 blocked shots, 16 points). The reserves only managed to chip in 5 points on 2-for-10 shooting, but Pierce came on late and finished with 26 points (11-for-22) and 7 rebounds.
Chicago Bulls player notes: Air Gordon shot like his shoulder (and not his hamstring) was busted up (6-for-21), but near-perfect foul shooting (11-for-12) enabled him to put up a team-high 26 points. Kirk Hinrichwas hot off the bench and came through with19 points (6-for-12), 4 boards, a steal and a block. Rose finished with 14 (7-for-16), 8 rebounds (4 offensive), 6 assists and 3 steals (not to mention those, ugh, 6 TOs). Noah had a MAN-type double-double (11 points, 17 boards), Tyrus came reasonably close (12 points, 8 rebounds), and Salmons scored 17 (5-for-15) to go along with 5 boards, 3 assists, a steal and a block.
More numbers: Chicago won the Battle of the Boards 50-44, which included a 14-9 edge on the offensive glass. Unfortunately, they didn’t do a very good job protecting the rim, which allowed Boston to hit 18 layups (twice as many as the Bulls). The teams were even on fast breaks (14 points each). The Bulls were +11 from the line (although they had the two biggest misses).
TrueHoop Network:Zach Lowe of Celtics Hub: “With the season on the line in overtime, the Celtics, thinner than they’vebeen all year long, simply threw out the playbook and let the two best players on the floor take them home with simple one-on-one plays. In the last two minutes of regulation and overtime, Boston shot 8-of-10 from the floor, and Paul Pierce and RajonRondo combined to hit seven of those field goals, including an epic five straight from the Captain. They manufactured points when Perkins was too tired to score, Ray Allen had fouled out, Marburywas afraid to shoot, Tony Allen was a non-factor and Glen Davis was forced out of the game by the Bulls small line-up. The last four Pierce baskets were jump shots, and the last three, including the game-winner with 3.6 seconds left, were simple pull-ups over John Salmons. I’m not sure where this ranks on the list of all-time clutch Pierce performances, but it’s up there.”
Ever had one of those bad dreams where everything goes wrong? Like, you’re in school but you don’t know your locker combination, haven’t got your books, didn’t do your homework, can’t find any of your classes, forgot to get dressed, and the teachers are all slavering, tentacled monsters who want to use your stomach as an incubator for their evil, writhing, larva-like offspring. We’ve all had those dreams, right? Right…?!
Well, the Bulls lived that dream last night. And I was there, “loving it live.” It was a surreal experience, like watching some horrible natural disaster unfold but not being able to help the victims. The crowd was stunned. Some were livid, others were simply too shocked to be angry. There was a lot of head shaking/nervous laughing going on. The woman next to me had a child on her lap. At one point, I turned to her and said: “It’s too bad your daughter has to see something like this.” She replied: “Fortunately, she’s only three years old, so if I’m lucky she either won’t remember it or she’ll repress it.” Good times. But not really.
Chicago suffered a meltdown so complete that at one point I started to wonder whether the United Center had been converted into a giant microwave. These couldn’t be the same Bulls that almost swept the first two games in Boston, could they? Seriously, I was ready to storm the locker room and check for Body Snatcher pods. I mean, newly minted Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose (9 points, 4-for-14, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 7 turnovers) wasn’t just thoroughly outclassed by Boston’s Rajon Rondo (20 points, 8-for-15, 11 boards, 6 assists, 5 steals), he was even outplayed by Stephon Marbury (13 points, 4-for-10, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, zero turnovers). Welcome to the Twighlight Zone, folks.
For all intents and purposes, the game was over by halftime, by which point the Bulls were already down by 22 points (59-37). And here are some fun first-half numbers for you: 14 turnovers, 9 missed free throws, 32 percent shooting. And things didn’t get any better in the second half. Vinny Del Negro became so desperate that he put in Tim Thomas to stem the tide. That led to the following sequence, which may rank among the worst possessions of all time: Thomas isolated at the three-point arc for 10 seconds, got his shot blocked by Kendrick Perkins, flopped to try and get the call and then committed a reach-in foul on Rondo, who had snared the rebound and was sprinting downcourt. Amazingly, Thomas got the ball again on Chicago’s very next possession…and had it stolen by Glen “Big Baby” Davis.
For the game, the Bulls committed 22 turnovers, gave up 24 points off those turnovers, shot 37.5 percent from the field and missed 10 of their 27 free throw attempts (mind you, they went 46-for-51 in Games 1 and 2). Going back to turnovers for a second, Boston’s 16 steals were the second-best total in their franchise playoff history, behind only the 18 they had in Game 5 of the 2008 Finals. On the bright side, Chicago won the rebounding battle (45-37) and outscored the Celtics by a point in the second half to lose only 107-86. Oh, and Vinny didn’t have to worry about saving any timeouts down the stretch. So they had that going for them…which is nice.
Speaking of coaching blunders, this game was further proof (in case you needed any) that Vinny isn’t Coach of the Year material quite yet. (Sorry, Peter Vecsey.) To the casual and slightly inebriated observer, it looked like the Celtics came to Chicago with a solid game plan, whereas it seemed like Del Negro just told his guys: “Keep doing what you’ve been doing, only rebound better. Now go get ‘em!” It’s funny how poor preparation becomes exceedingly glaring when Rose and Ben Gordon (15 points, 5-for-13) aren’t having career games.
So now the Bulls are behind 2-1 in the series, only it feels more like they’re down 8-1. That’s how discouraging this defeat was. I know it’s only one loss, and that they could come back to take Game 4, and maybe even win the series (though I highly doubt it). But this sure felt like one of those “told you so” defeats that reveals all the success and good vibes of the last couple months were just fool’s gold.
Update! TrueHoop Network:Zach Lowe from Celtics Hub: “The Bulls certainly didn’t help themselves. No team’s defense is good enough to truly force 22 turnovers against an NBA team. Twice on fast breaks Derrick Rose tossed ill-timed passes from the middle of the court to the left corner; one pass went out of bounds because no Bull was there to catch it. Rajon Rondo zoomed into the passing lane to intercept the second. It will be very interesting to see how the Bulls respond to this game. They looked tentative and unsure of themselves. Five days after the franchise’s biggest win in years, they find themselves coming off a blowout and needing to win a home game to keep this is a competitive series. Sunday is going to be interesting.”
Last night, I was talking to Jason Smith for ESPN’s NBA Today Podcastwhen Jason mentioned that some of the buzz about Derrick Rose died down a bit in late March/early April due to the strong late-season play of fellow rookies such as New Jersey’s Brook Lopez and Minnesota’s Kevin Love. Now, maybe it was because I had literally just finished a long night of pickup basketball and was therefore exceptionally thirsty, but I told Jason that this happened because Derrick is like water: Easy to take for granted because it’s always there…but you’d be dead without it.
This off-the-cuff analogy reminded me of my all-time favorite Bruce Lee quote, which goes: “Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
Lee’s statement could be interpreted several ways, but to me it’s very similar to one component of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. That whole “survival of the fittest” thing doesn’t (as many suppose) mean that only the strong survive. What Darwin actually meant was that those creatures who are better equipped to adapt to the immediate, local environment are much more likely to survive and prosper.
My point — and I swear I have one — is that I don’t really care all that much if Derrick scores in bunches every game. Too many people made too much out of Derrick’s decreased productivity in Game 2. The NBA Playoffs are all about adjustments. Kendrick Perkins got a lot of burn in the media for predicting that Rose wouldn’t have another career night against the Celtics. That statement should have earned him an honorary Ph.D. from DUH! University. It was obvious that Boston’s coaching staff was going to gameplan against Derrick after his Game 1 explosion. Now Vinny, Del and Bernie get to gameplan against Doc’s gameplan.
Derrick simply needs to be like water. Let the game come to him. If he needs to flow, he should flow. When it’s time to crash, hopefully he can crash. That’s how this kid plays. Adapting to the situation as it presents itself. And, if you think about it, that’s how legends like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan played. It’s also how soon-to-be MVP LeBron James plays right now. Doing whatever you have to do to win…which doesn’t always mean scoring the basketball.
Anyway, I’ll be decked out in red tonight and loving it live at the United Center. You can expect my on-the-spot report late tonight or early tomorrow, depending on how many post-game brews I kick back at The Billy Goat.