"Harder" implies that the Bulls simply won a battle of will with other things being equal, but the deficiencies of the Cs' personnel was on display for the NBA world to see. Sure, the Bulls had more energy, but the Cs have no components in their street plan to match that energy. Maybe, the Bulls just have too much size and speed for Boston.
"They outplayed us in every aspect -- loose balls, contested shots, they knew our sets better than we knew theirs," Rajon Rondo (seven points on 3-for-10, six assists, five rebounds said after the game.
The Bulls simply couldn't have played better against the Cs, but the Cs really couldn't play all that much better considering the parts in their plan against the Bulls' parts. The Bulls could've closed out on a handful of 3-pointers better, but the Cs neglected the long range when the Bulls began those closeouts. There was a lot of fouling by the Bulls that was just the necessary evil of keeping up with Boston's paper tiger physicality.
The Bulls 97-81 win was a perfect storm of size and speed -- neither with which the Cs could matchup, even at their best. The Bulls not only held Boston to only 21 layup attempts, but the Cs only made eight. The Cs didn't adjust by taking more efficient 3-pointers -- only going 2-for-10 -- but resorting to 41 2-point jumpshot attempts. That never goes well for much of anyone and Thursday night was no different; the Cs only hit 17. "After making three of their first four shots in the third quarter, the Celtics were 9-for-34 (26 percent) the rest of the game," Kent McDill wrote at NBA.com.
The .415 FG% on those 2-point jumpers looks manageably awful with a great defense, but the .439 eFG% on total jumpers is just awful. The .397 eFG% on the entire game is a complete embarrassment handed down by the Tom Thibodeau's defense on his former team.
The Bulls also dominated the glass. Kevin Garnett (10 points on 3-for10, 10 rebounds, two steals) was the only Boston big who could accomplish much of anything and after points in the paint, it's telling in the rebounds. The Bulls out-rebounded the Cs 44-35 with four players grabbing at least 10% of available rebounds -- led by Carlos Boozer (14 points on 6-for-16, 12 rebounds, 20.5% TRR) -- while only two Cs could grab boards as such a rate (KG - 20.1%; Nenad Krstic - 10.3%)
On the offensive end, the Bulls got whatever they wanted, for the most part. They shot 37-for-78 (.474 FG%) and 9-for-22 on 3s (.409 3P%) for a huge .532 eFG% on the night to post one of the most impressive 113.8 ratings you'll see. Derrick Rose (30 points on 9-for-16 -- 2-for-5 on 3s, 10-for-10 FTs -- eight assists, five rebounds, two steals, only three turnovers) played like one of the most unstoppable players in the game against a defense which prides itself on being able to stop anyone.
Toward the end of the first quarter, Rose showed Rondo, Krstic, and Glen Davis they were too small, too weak, and too slow to compete in this game:
Speaking of Rondo's amazing defense:
In the second, he tossed up an insane floater on the baseline after a hand check from KG that was intended to just get him tot he line. The refs didn't blow the whistle, but ball don't lie:
In you're not convinced that this kid is one of the most special, incomparable kids in the history of this game, he performed a layup drill on one of the most sophisticated defenses in the history of the game:
Luol Deng (23 points on 9-for-18, 3-for-6 on 3s, six rebounds, two blocks) was isolated to around 12:21 in the first half because the refs were on some bullshit in ways that hurt both teams. The Bulls were only up 48-43 after a first half where the team was a +6 with Deng on the floor and a -1 without him. Deng lit up the Cs for 18 points in the second half on 8-for-13 shooting -- 2-for-4 on 3s -- and almost single-handedly held to Paul Pierce (15 points on 6-for-13) to nine points on only seven shots. He even got kicked in the head with a big lead. Of course, he stayed in the game.
Kendrick Perkins is gone; Shaquille O'Neal is on the roster. I haven't bought into the high value of Shaq in the middle for Boston, other than beating up smaller teams with easy buckets early in games and applying hard fouls. The Bulls can take that early paint beating and adjust, while physicality doesn't hinder Rose's dribble penetration or Deng's off-ball cuts in any way. I fail to see how Shaq is a significant factor, whereas Perk's impact was more tangible and perpetual.
"We're gonna' find out who we are and what we're made of these last couple of games, but we need to get better," KG said after the game.
Boston's fucked up. We won't see it against the Knicks, 76ers, or Heat, but against the Bulls -- let alone the Spurs or Lakers -- in a seven-game series, things will get ugly for them.
Joakim Noah (two points, four rebounds, 23 minutes) played like shit. KG just kills Noah every time and I'm wondering if the energy boost has gotten too personally emotional on Jo's end. Despite being benched the final 15 minutes of the game for Kurt Thomas (two points, five rebounds, four fouls), who added the physicality Jo wasn't applying, all of KG's ten points and nine of his rebounds were with Jo on the floor -- 3-for-3 from the floor, 4-for-4 on FTs in the first half.
Thomas was EVERYWHERE! He was switching on screens, closing out on shots, crashing the boards, pushing back twice when a Celtic starting pushing on a teammate. Speaking of pushing back, Ray Allen (seven points on 3-for-11, 0-for-3 on 3s, six rebounds) wanted to play rough with Keith Bogans (six points on 2-for-3 -- all 3s -- and four rebounds) and give refs the "I'm a nice guy and he's picking on me" look, but the refs didn't have any of it and let Ray take the beating for which he was asking and Bogans took Allen out fo the game with physicality.
Starters played late because Thibs was clearly not confident in keeping the large lead. He didn't candy coat that one bit in his comments after the game.
"I've worked for that team before and I've seen their comebacks," Thibs said. "And I know the way they can shoot 3s. So, once a game gets inside ten with theat team, they can make up ground real quick. I didn't feel the lead was safe."
Normally, I'm critical of Thibs playing starters too late or too much with large leads, but I buy this.
Omer Asik was benched, too. He made no appearance in the box score other than his 5:07 of PT for a 5.12 trillion. It's only his third trillion of the season -- a 2.5T on opening night in OKC and a 0.4T against the Clippers in Dec. when Thomas was a better matchup to get physical in Jo's first game out with the broken hand. Omer played well, making Davis and Krstic just look like little boys afraid to enter a room, but Thomas was a better way to kill Davis without needing Taj Gibson (six points on 3-for-5, three steals, three rebounds in 13:20) to take Boozer off the floor.
Jeff Green is too small. boozer didn't exploit the mismatch much, only going back to the basket on him twice and only finishing strong once, but if Boston wants to do this, bring it on. That said, Krstic and Davis are too slow to defend Booz. Booz's issue was too much shooting and not enough attacking.
This wasn't just a bad game by the Cs. the deficiencies are real. Very real. They've lost nine of their last 17. Sure, they closed out last season badly, but that didn't make them better, just as this doesn't. Also, they had Perk in the deciding game of every playoff series last year. (Just sayin'.)
The Bulls' magic number is now one. That means the Bulls clinch the Eastern Conference with by winning one more game or the Cs losing one more. Next, they play the over-achieving Cavs (17-61) in Cleveland on Friday. In other words, get ready to celebrate.
Worst case scenario for Friday night, they fall asleep, but the Bulls get the Magic (50-29) on Sunday without Dwight Howard (suspension). Noah isn't healthy. He spent the last 15 minutes of the game with his ankles iced up. I say sit him for the weekend if the swelling and inflammation is giving him hell. Earl Clark doesn't scare me; and Cleveland, well, you know.