Game 13 of 82 (15.9%), Friday, November 28, 1030am PST
Bulls @ Celtics
The day after Thanksgiving, the Celtics gave away another NBA basketball game. Once again, there are two ways to look at this loss. Option A: The Celtics lost another close game! They had their chances and blew it! Option B: They played pretty well against a very good team and had the lead for most of the game. Many Celtics fans are tired of hearing this, but it remains true: the Celtics are playing well, just not for four quarters.
It’s a philosophical question worthy of debate:
- Would you rather your team lose after trailing the whole game?
- Would you rather your team play really well for two or three quarters of the game, and then retreat into their shell and die in the fourth quarter?
Give It Away, Give It Away, Give It Away, Give It Away Now
The Celtics have gotten very good at retreating into their shells in the fourth quarter. Fortunately, those ugly 4th quarters have come against above-average basketball teams, which brings some sort of consolation and hope for the rest of the season. Of their first 13 opponents (including Sunday’s game vs. San Antonio), Boston will have faced the top 6 defenses in the NBA. The disastrous 4th quarters are mostly a result of Boston’s disastrous defense, but should also be attributed to the very good opposing defenses who are refusing to allow the Celtics to play at the rapid pace they so desire. In the simplest sense, three things are happening: 1. The Celtics aren’t getting any defensive stops; 2. The lack of stops keeps the offense from getting any transition opportunities; 3. The Celtics, who did not play with this up-tempo pace last year, are tiring in the 4th quarter.
After taking a 58-44 lead with 3:15 left in the first half, the post-Thanksgiving Celtics were making the post-Thanksgiving Bulls appear as if they were swimming in gravy. Derrick Rose was held in check, scoring only 5 points in the game’s first 21 minutes. The defense Boston displayed against Portland in their previous game seemed to carry over.
Then Chicago went on a 10-2 run and all that they’d built had crumbled. Mirotic, the lanky power forward who might be the second coming of Toni Kukoc (coming to the NBA earlier in his career), hit a three-pointer, came up with a steal and dished a pass to Butler for a lay-up. Lead immediately down to 9. A few ugly possessions for Boston resulted in contested threes, and the lead was down to 6 (60-54) at the halftime buzzer. Evan Turner and Brandon Bass made big contributions in building the lead early.
The third quarter found Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley warming up. Rondo helped Bradley find some space in the corners (two corner threes) and in the paint. Good to see Rondo and Avery working the half-court together. Sullinger (23 points, 10 rebounds) showed off his range, hitting 3 of 4 above-the-break three-pointers. Here’s Sullinger shot-chart for the game:
The box score tells a sad story:
Joakim Noah destroyed the Celtics on Friday. Noah tallied 15 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 (yes 6!) blocked shots. Bulls rookie Nikola Mirotic (from Montenegro via Spanish League) blocked 5 of the Celtics shots in only 26 minutes. Jimmy Butler’s penetration and Noah’s aggressiveness helped the Bulls get to the free-throw line 37 times. The Bulls hit 30 of 37 from the line, while Boston managed 22 of 29. In a game decided by 7 points, the Bulls helped themselves to 8 more points via the charity stripe.
Half-Court Shutdown, 4th Quarter Collapse
In another tragic final quarter, the Celtics were outscored 24-11. Boston shot 5 of 26 from the field, including 0 of 8 from distance. Rondo was aggressive, but couldn’t finish in the paint against the long-arms of Noah and Mirotic. The length of the Bulls gives all penetrating point guards fits. It’s one of the reasons their defense is so devastating. It’s also the reason why Evan Turner becomes a critical player if Boston is going to progress in the half-court. While Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger have definite offensive skills, Turner has the length and the footwork to create on his own in the mid-range. Rondo shot 1 of 8 in the 4th quarter.
Stevens Gives Pressey 4th Quarter Minutes
Brad Stevens has generally avoided criticism in his first 95 games as an NBA coach. Coaching a team with low expectations and general roster turmoil means he has naturally been given a generous cushion. A stellar resume as a college coach and a pleasant demeanor. A long-term contract with which to build these Celtics into something productive. Here’s a question for Stevens: Why does Phil Pressey get meaningful 4th quarter minutes in a game you’re trying to win?
I really like Phil Pressey. He is fun to watch. He is a pesky defender. He moves the ball well. He just can’t shoot. In his brief career, Pressey has shot 30.2% from the field, and only 24.8% from distance. Coming into the Bulls game, he was 2 of 13 from deep. With the Celtics up 6, Pressey was at point guard to start the 4th. On the first two possessions of the quarter, Sullinger missed a hook and 23-footer. On the 3rd and 4th possessions of the quarter, with the slim lead slipping away, Stevens’ offense resulted in a 25% three-point shooter taking two long-range shots. I think Stevens would say, “We need Phil to develop the confidence to hit those shots.” I would respond, “I like Phil, but I don’t think the 4th quarter of a close game is the time to take that chance.”
When Sullinger or Olynyk miss a three-pointer, you can say to yourself, “They’ve got to keep shooting, because they are potentially dangerous offensive options in order to stretch the defense.” When Pressey misses a three-pointer, you wonder how long he’ll be able to stick around in the NBA. Tiny little guys who can’t shoot are an endangered species in the association.
The Celtics took a 2-point lead on a Jeff Green finger-roll with 2:29 left. The crowd was engaged. But, alas, it was not to be:
Green missed a three. Sullinger plowed into someone and got a charge. Noah blocked Rondo. Rondo recovered the ball and got fouled, but missed two big free-throws (ugh). Sullinger missed another three-pointer. Turner came into the game and got blocked at the rim (again it was Noah). By then, it was obvious. The Bulls would win this game.
Another 4th quarter to flush down the toilet.
Thankfully, the season is young. The Celtics won’t be facing top defenses all season. 13 down. 69 to go.