All wins are not created equal. All loses are not created equal. The Celtics 100-99 overtime loss to the Bulls on Friday night was a heart-breaker, and one that will haunt Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce until mid-February, when the Celtics get a chance at revenge in the final contest before the All-Star break.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
When the Celtics and Bulls are both playing well, their defense acts offensively, aggressively frustrating opponents into passing-lane turnovers, desperation threes, and one-shot possessions. Against weaker teams, that defense leads to transition points, whether those points come by way of fast-break lay-ups, free-throws or wide open three-pointers.
Before the game, we learned the Avery Bradley would be missing the contest with a bruised rib (x-rays negative). Leandro Barbosa got the start, but played only 14 minutes. Jason Terry (27) and Courtney Lee (22) got the extra minutes.
Boston forced 21 Chicago turnovers, but converted those into only 7 points. This ratio tells the story of the game. Typically, the ratio is about 1:1.2 (turnover: points allowed off of turnovers). On Friday, Chicago’s ability to minimize the cost of their mistakes kept the turnovers from hurting them. This is where Bradley’s absence cost the Celtics most. Rivers hoped Barbosa’s speed would have helped create some open-court opportunities, knowing that the Bulls half-court defense was going to cause Pierce and Garnett problems. It also tells you Pierce and KG can’t beat determined teams down the court. Thibodeau relentlessly preaches getting back on defense.
Unfortunately, Rondo was the only Celtic to do damage in the open court. Thibodeau’s strategy against Boston this year has been clearer than a newly-cleaned glass table: Rondo will have to score to beat us.
Rondo’s 30 points (on 21 shots) are proof that he can hit the jumper when forced to these days. Without Rose, the Bulls are forced to rely on Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson at PG. Rondo came up with another huge effort. Take that Simmons, who on ESPN’s pre-game show called Rondo out on whether or not he’d show up and be aggresive–Wilbon threw it back to Simmons at the half, to which Bill recognized it was Pierce and KG who hadn’t shown up. Rondo’s aggressiveness (Hubie Brown observed the several occasions when Rondo made his mind up to go coast-to-coast) and spirited defense meant moving over to stop Hamilton, who would have been bottled up by Bradley, but was shooting over the top of the shorter defenders Terry and Lee, at one stretch in the 3rd quarter.
Jared Sullinger’s inspired play must be commended. Against the Bulls, whom have out-rebounded the Celtics badly over the last few years, Sullinger’s wide-frame neutralized that aspect of the game. Given 38 minutes of playing time, Sullinger grabbed an impressive 15 rebounds, 5 on the offensive end, which kept the board score even (43-42 Chicago). On the other hand, Sullinger’s inability to hit a jumper made life even more claustrophobic for Pierce (5 of 17) and Garnett (5 of 16). Which leads us to The Ugly Truth.
The Bad, Ugly Truth
Pierce has never done well against Luol Deng, one of the league’s most phyiscal, strongest wing-defenders. Deng’s wingspan takes away one of Pierce’s biggest strengths, the over-the-top fade-away jumper. Unlike smaller defenders, Deng can play physical defense without fouling, which keeps Pierce from getting to the line. Still, Pierce is now 16 of 49 (32.7 %) from the field over the last three games. Pierce isn’t getting any arc on his long-range shots (3 of 18 from distance). It’s worth considering whether or not Pierce should take a game or two off after the All-Star break, to save his legs for the playoffs.
This leads us to another question: How much can Jason Terry or Jeff Green give? Without Pierce’s scoring, Terry and Green are the next two options, but have to be given more touches in order to find their shooting confidence. Rivers needs to consider asking Pierce to sit out for two or three games and giving Green the Green light as a starter. Imagine a temporary starting unit of Rond0-Bradley-Green-Bass-Garnett. That team could out-run most other starting fives, and potentially lift the confidence of both Green and Bass.
Pierce getting trapped in the corner at the end of the 4th quarter and the C’s leading by two points was even uglier. Not getting the time-out call in time, Noah wins the eventual jump-ball and Hinrich hits the jumper to send the game to OT. The fact the C’s couldn’t execute down the stretch with Pierce is troubling. The Truth is Aging, and needs a break.
Tom Thibodeau, Boston’s old defensive mastermind, seems to delight in beating his former mentor, Doc Rivers. Thibodeau paid his dues in the NBA, serving for three years with the Celtics, helping to lead them to two finals appearances, before finally getting his break and landing the Bulls job.
After coaching Harvard University (pre-Jeremy Lin) from 1985-1989, Thibs was hired to join the expansion Timberwolves in Minnesota. After bouncing from the hinterland to San Antonio, he became close with John Lucas, who was then hired by Philadelphia. Thibodeau became the top defensive coach in Philly for two years (1994-1996) before moving again to New York, with Lucas. Jeff Van Gundy’s Knicks were one of the top defensive teams in the NBA in the late 90’s. Thibodeau was an assistant in New York until 2003. After a four-year stop in Houston, Rivers scooped him up during the off-season that brought Boston Garnett and Allen. While Garnett’s intensity on the court changed the culture of the team, Thibodeau’s knowledge of defensive principles and his ability to motivate cannot be underestimated in the success of the Celtics teams from 2007-2010. Recently, Thibodeau became the fastest head coach to win 100 games in NBA history.
Beware of DVR extra time. I’m almost always careful about setting an extra hour, but forgot this time. My version of this game ended with 3:05 remaining in the 4th and a tie-score.