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?
Obviously, these “Celtics” aren’t the same Boston team that destroyed the Bulls twice earlier this season. But then again, this isn’t the same Chicago team, either. They certainly aren’t the same club that lost at home to the 3-35 New Jersey Nets and choked up a 35-point lead to the Sacramento Kings.
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.
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).”