April 24, 2009
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.”
Extras: Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.
April 19, 2009
On Friday, Zach Lowe of Celtics Hub revealed: “Rose scares 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.”
So, uh, Zach…why didn’t you tell me you had a time machine?
Derrick Rose scored 36 points yesterday, setting a new career-high and tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most points scored by a rookie in a playoff. He shot 12-for-19 from the field and was a perfect 12-for-12 from the line. He had a game-high 11 assists, which made him only the second player in NBA history with 35 points and 10 assists in his playoff debut (Chris Paul had 35 and 10 in his own history-making playoff debut last season). And his Chicago Bulls beat the Boston Celtics — 105-103 in overtime — for the first time in 11 postseason tries. It’s no coincidence.
Rose was flat out awesome. That’s not to say he didn’t make mistakes. He committed a game-high 5 turnovers — including an ill-conceived forced pass with 3:30 left in regulation that led to a Paul Pierce layup, which allowed Boston to regain the lead — and he fouled out with 10 seconds to go in overtime on a pretty cheesy bump foul on Rajon Rondo. But that feels like nitpicking. The kid was unflappable. He never looked panicked or even worried. When he was interviewed at halftime (with the Bulls holding a surprising 9-point lead) and after the game (after Chicago’s even more surprising victory), he wasn’t even breathing hard.
It was amazing. Rose hit some shots that were just redonkulous. Long jumpers with the shot clock winding down, driving layups in the heart of the Celtic defense (including one in which he got fouled right before lofting it up one-handed on the baseline from slightly behind the backboard). In some ways, it was nearly as fantastic as Michael Jordan’s legendary 63-point performance against the C’s back in 1986…or maybe more fantastic, since Rose’s effort resulted in an overtime win instead of a double-overtime loss.
Maybe that’s overstating things, but what Derrick huge. Or as the Beantowners might say, “yuuuuuuuuge.” But in all fairness to D-Rose, he didn’t do it alone. Joakim Noah was a monster. He hit only five of his 12 shot attempts, but he finished with 11 points, 3 blocked shots and a game-high 17 rebounds. To put that in perspective, the Celtics — one of the league’s best rebounding teams — didn’t have a single player reach double figures off the boards. (Pierce, Rondo and Leon Powe were the closest, with 7 rebounds each.) And trust me when I tell you that Joakim’s board work was probably just as critical as Rose’s offense.
(Okay, I’m really, really trying not to hold Joakim’s biggest blunder of the day against him, when he rotated over and fouled Pierce on a long, fall-away jumper with 2.6 seconds left in the fourth. That foul likely would have cost the Bulls the game had Pierce made both free throws. He didn’t, and things turned out okay, but still. Joakim, it’s like Hubie Brown always says: NEVER FOUL A JUMP SHOOTER.)
Then there was Tyrus Thomas, the third member of Chicago’s young core of the future. Ty finished with 16 points (8-for-12), 6 rebounds and 3 blocks. But he was at his best in overtime, when he scored six of the Bulls’ eight points — including the game-winning jumper with 51 seconds left — all on jump shots. Yes, you read that correctly: ALL ON JUMPSHOTS. From 16, 17 and 20 feet, to be exact. I guess all those regular season misses paid off?
I should also mention that Ben Gordon — who might not even be a Bull next season — shook off a slow start to finish with 20 points and a second-best-on-the-team 5 dimes. Moreover, he got hot late, drilling four of his six makes in the fourth quarter on (surprise!) long jumpers (once from 24 feet, twice from 20 and once from 18). His clutch offense forced Doc Rivers to shuffle Ray Allen (4 points on 1-for-12 shooting) like Ray was in the witness protection program.
And while giving out credit where credit is due, I should mention Brad Miller (who went 2-for-11 but grabbed 12 boards) and Kirk Hinrich (whose stats weren’t all that), who were the only Chicago players other than Derrick Rose to finish with a positive plus-minus score (they were +9 each, while Rose was +8). Brad was a key part of 53-45 rebounding edge, and Kirk was a steady presence off the bench, particularly on defense.
I’m not totally sure what to make of this win. It’s big, yeah, but it took a historic performance by Rose to pull out a 2-point overtime win. Can Derrick make history again? And will the Bulls continue to play with the same sort of loose confidence they displayed in Game 1? I mean, it sure seems easier to execute when nobody believes in you and all the pressure is on the other guys. Pierce, for one, thinks this was a wakeup call for the Celtics. And if that’s the case, Game 2 could get ugly.
But if this game proved something to the young Bulls (and the old ones)…it’s that anything’s possible. Right?
Extras: Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.
April 17, 2009
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!!!!
March 17, 2009
The Basics: Boston (50-17) at Chicago (30-37). The Celtics are 23-11 on the road, while the Bulls are 20-11 at home.
Advanced stuff: Boston is ranked 5th in Offensive Rating (scoring 110.6 points per 100 possessions) and 1st in Defensive Rating: (giving up 101.5 points per 100 possessions). Chicago is rankled 20th (106.9) and 17th (108.2), respectively. So, in addition to teaching us that creating a monster out of spare body parts and then shoving a burning torch in its face is probably a bad idea, science has shown pretty conclusively that the Celtics are a better team than the Bulls. Yay, science.
Trends: The Celtics have lost three of four and set their season low for points (77) when they lost to the Bucks in Milwaukee on Sunday. And that whole “scoring” thing has been a problem for them lately: The C’s have been held under 80 in two of their last four games.
Meanwhile, the Bulls have dropped seven in a row on the road while winning five straight at home…their longest home streak since 2006-07. That run includes victories over the Nuggets, Magic, Rockets and Hornets, and three of those wins were blowouts.
The season series: The Celtics lead it 2-0 after winning twice in Boston, 96-80win in Boston on October 31 (as Kevin Garnett became the youngest player to log 1,000 career games) and 126-108 on December 19 (thanks to a career-high 25 points from Kendrick Perkins).
Recent history: The Bulls have lost six straight against the Celtics since
Kevin McHale gave them Danny Ainge acquired Kevin Garnett from Minnesota before last season. To that point, Chicago had won the previous eight matchups.
The Stakes: Boston is three-and-a-half games behind Cleveland for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. More importantly, though, is the fact that they’re only a half game ahead of Orlando, which means they need this game just to hold their ground. The Celtics have gone 6-5 without Kevin Garnett– who’s still out with a sprained right knee — and they seem to be reeling. But you can never underestimate the heart of a champion, right? And their defense — with or without KG — always makes them dangerous.
The Bulls, meanwhile, will be facing a must-win situation pretty much every night for the rest of the season. They’re basically tied with the Bucks for the East’s final playoff spot…and the Bobcats, Knicks, Nets and Pacers are all snapping at their heels.
Injuries: For the Celtics: Glen Davis (ankle), Brian Scalabrine (concussion), Kevin Garnett (knee), and Tony Allen (thumb) are out, while Eddie House (ankle) is probable. For Chicago: Luol Deng (stress fracture) and Jerome James (Achilles) are out, while Kirk Hinrich (munchies) is probable.
Falling stars: This should be a matchup of two of the league’s elite young point guards. Assuming they pull their games out of the trash. RajonRondo is 4-for-17 from the floor with 9 turnovers in his past two games and Derrick Rose is 14-for-40 in his past three. They aren’t shooting with their eyes closed…are they?
Player(s) to fear: Kendrick Perkins improved on the career-high he set against the Bulls earlier this season by scoring 26 points (9-for-16) against the Bucks on Sunday. But now we have Brad Miller to throw against hi…never mind. Oh, and Ray Allen had averaged 27.0 points over three games before his meltdown in Milwaukee (8 points on 2-for-11 shooting). It’s hard to imagine Ben Gordon checking him.
TrueHoop Network: Zach Lowe of CelticsHub said: “About the Bulls: They are a team whose offense lives in the worst place to live: the land of two-point jump shots. They shoot very few three-pointers (24th-most in the league, actually) and they are in the middle of the pack in terms of getting shots near the rim. For all of the changes this season–Derrick Rose, more minutes for Ty Thomas and Joakim Noah–this is a team that still loses most of the time if they don’t make jump shots. That bodes well for Boston, which has handled the Bulls easily since the start of last season. Both games this year have been laughers, with the C’s holding Chicago to 29.8 percent shooting in a 96-80 win on Halloween and resting the starters during a 126-108 laugher in December. KG had one rebound in that game, and the biggest story was Rajon Rondo challenging Usain Bolt (who visited the C’s locker room) to a race. Some hilarious knee-slapping ensued. It’s tough to read anything into those games. Rondo has contained Rose, and the C’s have limited Ben Gordon to fewer than 12 points in each game. But the games were so uncompetitive that those numbers mean very little.”