Game Recap: Bulls 89, Celtics 80

If there was a giant dictionary of all things NBA, this game would be listed under the entry for “winning ugly.”

The Bulls shot 39.5 percent from the field and committed 17 turnovers.

However, they held the Celtics to 39.7 percent shooting while outrebounding them 52-37, which included a 16-6 advantage in offensive boards and a 12-6 edge in second-chance points.

Said Paul Pierce: “You play defense for 22, 23 seconds and you don’t get the rebound, it zaps the energy.”

Additionally, when the Bulls were in Boston on Sunday, the Celtics racked up 33 fast break points. Last night, the leprechauns finished with 12. They Celtics tried to run…this time the Bulls were actually standing in the way.

Another crucial stat: The Bulls had a 28-18 advantage in free throw attempts. This was in large part because they were more aggressive in attacking the basket. According to Hoopdata, Chicago attempted 32 shots at the rim to 23 for Boston.

Look, offense comes and goes, especially when a team is without their star offensive player. But defense, rebounding, and attacking the basket are all about effort. They’re about desire. And the Bulls absolutely won the “wanting it more than the other guys” category.

Nobody on the Bulls was any more intense than Carlos Boozer.

Yes. Carlos Boozer.

Boozer’s critics still blast him whenever he doesn’t have a 20-10 game, and they scream when he disappears against opponents like Kevin Garnett. Well, last night, the Celtics couldn’t hide from Booz. He scored 23 points on 11-for-15 shooting while ripping down 15 rebounds and dishing out 5 assists.

Yeah, KG had 18 and 10, but the Celtics were outscored by 10 when he was on the floor, whereas the Bulls were eight points better when Boozington was in the game.

Perhaps more important to the big picture, though, Carlos and Joakim Noah (15 points and 16 rebounds) displayed an on court chemistry that has eluded them for most of Boozer’s time on the team. In the first half, they ran some nifty two-man plays in the paint that ended with Boozer hitting Noah for an easy layup.

Those two learning to co-exist in the paint may end up being nearly as important as a healthy back for Derrick Rose.

Speaking of chemistry, the Bulls may have shot the ball poorly, but they finished with a staggering 27 assists on 30 made field goals. Luol Deng (23 points on 7-for-15 shooting) once again tapped into his inner Larry Bird and played the role of point forward, finishing with 10 assists…two more than Rajon Rondo.

You know who else gave the Bulls a big lift? Mike James. No, seriously.

James — fresh out of the NBA D-League (again) — got a call to duty in the second quarter when Rajon Rondo was overwhelming C.J. Watson and John Lucas III with his post game. Enter James.

Said James: “I’m not going to let no one smaller than me post me up. I take pride in my defense. I’m not the biggest guard, but I have some size on me. I’m not going to let him be able to do whatever. Guards have never posted me up and that’s not something new that I’m going to start allowing.”

Here’s another point in James’ favor. Watson finished with 11 shots and 3 assists in 27 minutes. Lucas finished with three shots and zero assists in seven minutes. James had five shots and 4 assists in 17 minutes.

Mike’s assist total may not be staggering, but C.J. and John were looking to shoot first and create second. Or third. Or fourth. No offense to those guys, but they definitely had an eye for the twine. Other than a few possessions, James was looking to make a play first, and that played a part in Chicago outscoring Boston 26-11 in the second quarter.

The guy was ready and he made a very real impact. His plus-minus score of +15 was a game-high.

Said Deng: “Mike is a pro. He just came in, we didn’t miss a beat … the rotation is different. Some guys haven’t played with Mike, haven’t played with him in a while. But he’s been running the plays. He wasn’t asking ‘What play is this?’ and all that. That’s just what a pro does. He was ready and prepared.”

The entire team was, which was heartening, especially considering their half-hearted defensive effort against the Kings a few nights ago. And get this: The Bulls are now 7-2 without Rose this season.

But don’t get any funny ideas.

Said Noah: “Derrick’s like one of our main soldiers. We don’t ever want to see him down. I don’t think it gives us extra confidence [playing without him], I think we’re all confident in our abilities, but we know we’re not getting to where we want to get to without that guy. We know that we need Pooh healthy.”

That last part is key: Rose has to be healthy for the Bulls to have any hope of winning a title. And he’s getting good advice from Deng…a man who has been forced to (and sometimes unfairly criticized because of it) sit out when he would have rather been playing.

Said Deng: “He wants to be out there with us. This is a guy who’s not used to sitting out. I keep telling him, you’re going to play in this league for a long time. Every year is going to be different. You’ve just got to be smart about it. … Derrick, man, he’s so competitive. He wants to be out there so bad. I could see it. Everyone sees it. I keep telling him, ‘We just got to be smart. It is what it is, but don’t come back [if] you’re not 100 percent.’ We’re going to try and win these games ‘til he comes back.”

Bonus Stat – Part 1:
The Bulls were 10-for-21 (47 percent) from three-point range last night…despite Kyle Korver’s 0-for-5 performance. Deng was 6-for-9, Watson was 2-for-4, James was 1-for-1 and Lucas was 1-for-2. By contrast, the Celtics were 3-for-15, giving the Bulls a 30-9 advantage in points off three-pointers.

Bonus Stat – Part 2:
The Bulls outscored the Celtics 29-21 in the fourth quarter. And that’s part of an ongoing trend. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Chicago has an NBA-best fourth quarter point differential of +85 this season. The next closest team is Portland (+57), followed by Milwaukee (+44), Atlanta (+42) and New York (+42).

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