The good news:
According to ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell, Derrick Rose has taken the next step in rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee, and he is now cutting again.
The bad news:
Chicago’s defense was terrible last night.
The Bulls held the Celtics to 19 points on 35 percent shooting in the fourth quarter — which included a scoreless stretch of over five minutes — but Boston scored 82 points on 56 percent shooting through the first three quarters and took a 12-point lead into the final frame.
During quarters one through three, the Celtics ran an offensive clinic, and Rajon Rondo (20 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds, 5 steals) scored at will (10-for-16).
The Associated Press was quick to point out that this was the first time since April 8 of last season — a streak of 15 games — that a Bulls opponent scored 100 points. But, frankly, I’m concerned less with point totals than scoring efficiency.
And Boston was ruthlessly efficient last night.
The Celtics finished with an Offensive Rating of 113.1, which is significantly better than their season average (102.7) and much better than the season average of Bulls opponents (98.4).
For further perspective, the New York Knicks currently lead the NBA in Offensive Rating at 114.3, which means the Celtics were running their offense like the league’s best.
Said Luol Deng: “It was bad. It was really bad. They shot a high percentage the whole game. The (pregame) talk was about scoring, but we’re a defensive team. That’s what gets us going, that’s what wins us games. And we got to do that.”
Indeed, the Bulls didn’t play with any kind of edge on defense until the fourth quarter, by which time they were fighting tooth and nail to get back into the game. Nate Robinson can be faulted for letting Rondo speed past him time after time, but the help defense wasn’t being very helpful either. The Bulls all looked a step slow and probably would have gotten blown out if Kevin Garnett (6-for-15) had been knocking down his open shots.
Said Taj Gibson: “It was just too cordial. We were giving up too many easy baskets. We gave them a lot of confidence early. It’s hard to shut off a faucet like that, especially with a great team in the Celtics, where they hit shots, they’re a jump shooting team. We just kept fighting but at the end of the game it was kind of hard to cool that down.”
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers:
The Bulls committed 14 turnovers…but it felt like twice that many. That’s probably because many of them weren’t really forced by Boston’s defense, being the product of casual and careless passing/ball-handling.
Chicago coughed up the ball on back-to-back possessions to end the first half and then lost the rock five times in the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter turnovers were the most painful. One came on an offensive foul by Marquis Teague after the Bulls had pulled to within 87-84 with about seven minutes to go. A minute later, with the score still 87-84, Deng had a bad pass snatched away by Rondo. With 4:30 left and Boston leading 89-84, Marco Belinelli turned the ball over by stepping out of bounds. Then there was the shot clock violation with 1:28 on the clock and the C’s up 95-91.
Missed free throws:
The Bulls had a 31-16 edge in free throw attempts. Their conversion rate wasn’t terrible — 24-for-31 (77.4 percent) — but the critical misses were haunting.
Teague missed one when the Bulls were down 93-89 with 2:47 left.
Deng went 0-for-2 when the Bulls were down 95-91 with 54 seconds left.
Gibson went 0-for-2 when the Bulls were down 97-93 with 40 seconds left.
Those misses were absolutely brutal. And they potentially cost the Bulls a big comeback.
The three-point shooting apocalypse continues:
The Bulls deserve due credit for holding the Celtics to 3-for-16 shooting from beyond the arc. Of course, Boston ranks a very average 16th in three-point shooting percentage (34.3).
At this point, the Bulls almost have to keep their opponents from knocking down treys, because their own three-point shooting remains beyond pitiful. Last night’s 3-for-9 performance makes them 25-for-79 (31.6 percent) for the season.
Make no mistake: This lack of three-point shooting is holding them back. The Bulls are an achingly average team on offense, ranking 15th in Offensive Rating (102.9) and 17th in Effective Field Goal Percentage (46.9).
More and more, the best offensive teams hit threes. The Bulls do not.
Player of the Game:
Deng’s strong start — he’s currently averaging 18.9 PPG on 48 percent shooting to go with 7.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists — continued last night.
Deng finished with a game-best 26 points on 11-for-20 shooting while ripping down a co-game-high 11 boards and dishing 3 assists. Deng played his usual solid D and easily won his match-up with his Celtics counterpart Paul Pierce (10 points, 4-for-13, 6 rebounds, 5 assists).
Deng barely edged Joakim Noah for PoG honors. Noah scored 17 points himself, going 6-for-10 from the field and 5-for-5 from the line. Jo also had 11 rebounds and 3 assists.
The season is young, but Noah is currently averaging career highs in MPG (39.3), PPG (15.3), FTA (5.3), FT% (83.8), APG (3.3), BPG (2.3) and SPG (1.4).
What’s more, Noah has never been as assertive on offense as he is this year. In times past, Noah was a painfully reluctant scorer unless he had an open dunk, layup or putback. He’s always been a gifted and willing passer, but his scorer’s mentality has developed, and it’s making him a more dangerous player.
With Kirk Hinrich out (strained right hip), point guard duties fell to Robinson and Teague. Robinson played more minutes (30) than Teague (18) and won the raw statistical battle (11 points and 7 assists to 5 points and 2 assists).
That said, Robinson finished with a plus-minus score of -15 whereas the Bulls were +9 with Teague on the floor. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau must have noticed the discrepancy — and the fact that none of the Celtics could stay in front of Teague — because the rookie played the entire fourth quarter.
Said Thibs: “He played hard. That is the first step. I liked the way he matched up with speed. (Leandro) Barbosa and Rondo are super quick. I like that matchup for Marquis. He used his speed and quickness to extend our defense a bit.”
Most importantly, the kid looked confident. Looked like he belonged. Rather than simply deferring to his veteran teammates, Teague ran the offense and made aggressive drives.
Said Rondo: “It’s good confidence for a young player to be playing when the game’s on the line. I think he played maybe the last seven minutes. That shows a lot of confidence with him and (Bulls coach Tom) Thibodeau. He’s a good player. He’s a confident player. He’s been a winner all his life. He won at Kentucky, so I don’t think he shies away from confidence. He’s ready when his name is called. He got to the cup a couple times, drew some fouls. For a player that young, your confidence just grows and grows.”
Added Gibson: “The way he was just calling plays (impressed me). He didn’t get fazed going against Rondo, understanding what he had to do against Rondo. He’s only going to get better. This is like only his third game playing in a regular NBA game. I told him it’s different than the preseason, the way guys are moving, guys taking shots. But it’s all about guys keeping their heads up and building confidence. It’s all about confidence.”
Hopefully, Teague can hold onto this experience and the experiences coming in the next few games. He’ll need to. When Hinrich and Rose are both back, that will put Teague at fourth on the point guard depth chart.
Taj continues to struggle:
The Bulls outscored the Celtics by 11 points when Gibson was on the floor. Statistically speaking, that’s where the good news ends.
Gibson submitted a pretty dull line of 4 points on 1-for-4 shooting, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, no steals, no blocked shots, 1 turnover, and 3 fouls in 21 minutes. He also missed those critical free throws in the final minute.
I’m worried about Taj. The season is still very young, so my worries are mild, but I’m worried nonetheless. Gibson is shooting a career-low 42.6 percent while also averaging a career-low 4.8 rebounds per game. In fact, a quick look shows that his rebounding averages have fallen each year he’s played:
That’s not all. During his rookie season, Taj had 18 double-doubles. His sophomore season, he had only 6. Last season — possibly because of the lockout — that number dropped to 4. He has none so far this season.
Furthermore, his Player Efficiency Rating has dipped from 16.9 last season to 13.3 right now…which is below the league average PER of 15.
Gibson’s defense still remains top notch, which is his saving grace, but his overall progression as a player seems to be ticking down rather than up.
The Celtics scored 14 fast break points.