Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Game 24 Recap, Bulls-Celtics: Strange Things Happening

Bulls 100 (14-10), Celtics 89 (12-12)

Last night's performance in Memphis was one that makes players and fans alike eager for the playing of the next game. Fortunately, that next game was just 24 hours away. The Celtics, not exactly at their championship form of four years ago, visited the United Center for the second time this season; things went a little differently this time.

Play in the first quarter did not feature the most imposing defense, which in a way was a nice change of pace after last night's abomination of a game. The Bulls managed 6 layups through 7 or 8 minutes of play. Belinelli even passed up an open three to take it to the rim, where his shot was goaltended. The Celtics weren't exactly playing vigilant defense, but it was encouraging to see the Bulls picking up some easy buckets in the early stages of the game.

The later stages of the first eventually turned into a Luol Deng free throw-palooza; Deng attempted --and made-- 8 free throws in the first quarter alone. That is certainly one way to get your offense.

After scoring 71 against Memphis, the Bulls dropped 28 in the first quarter alone, albeit largely on the back of free throws and layups. There was still room for serious concern about what would happen once the Bulls had to start hitting jump shots. 

In an M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist of a coaching maneuver, Thibodeau opted to start the second quarter with both Nate Robinson and Marquis Teague out on the floor. During this 4-minute stint, Teague pitched in 2 assists and a block (0-for-1 from the field, though). I'll take that. While this analogy doesn't work since the Bulls don't have a Trey Burke at the point, but if Teague can be the Bulls' Spike Albrecht, I'd be just fine with that. 

The Bulls went into a Boston timeout with a 40-29 lead almost halfway through the second quarter.It almost felt as if the Bulls had decided to save all of their offense for the back end of the back-to-back. Well, guys, I'm not sure that's how this works. 

Nonetheless, it was a tremendous half of basketball. The Bulls went into the break up 55-48; if you're keeping track, that means they had more points at the half than they did through three quarters in Memphis. Okay, that's enough "remember how bad the Memphis game was?" points. 

Halftime Stats (Bulls 55, Celtics 48)
-Bulls: 1.31 PPP
  • Deng: 4-for-7, 16 pts (8-for-8 from the line)
  • Boozer: 6-for-10, 12 pts
  • Noah:3-for-5, 7 pts, 7 rebounds

-Celtics: 1.14 PPP
  • Rondo: 5-for-8, 13 pts, 5 assists
  • Pierce:  5-for-7, 11 pts, 4 assists
  • Garnett: 5-for-5*, 10 pts, 7 rebounds
*Q: Kevin Garnett...is he a cyborg? A: Probably.

The Bulls absorbed an early 6-0 Boston run in the third quarter and continued to use the formula that was successful in the first half: attacking the basket and getting to the line. At the 2:36 mark, the Bulls were 18-for-19 from the line and up 74-67; these two points are probably not coincidental.

Entering the fourth up 79-70, the Bulls were in the position of having to hold a lead as opposed to making a comeback (like they did the last time against Boston). With Boston looking to cut the lead, Nate Robinson had other ideas, hitting a pair of threes in the span of a minute and a half, putting the Bulls up 87-73.

Nate hit again at the 6 minute mark, giving the Bulls a 20-point lead, 95-75. It really is mind-boggling to think that this Bulls team, with 95 points in a game with 6 minutes left to play, managed 71 in the entire game last night. Something about the Celtics brings out the best in the Bulls' offense, I guess.

Regardless, it was a nice bounceback performance from the Bulls, who have a break until Friday's trip to MSG. On an individual basis, every Bull had a good night. Even Kirk Hinrich wasn't offensively bad so much as unnoticed and/or unneeded. I guess being unnoticed or even unneeded is not a good thing to have to say about your starting point guard, even in a winning effort, but complaining about his stat line in this one might constitute protesting too much.

Even Boozer, a -6 on the night, scored 21 points on 10-17 shooting, including some buckets in the paint. No, he will never be a great defender or an exceptionally forceful player in the post, but he can still be (and often has been) an effective player for the Bulls. Is he a starter on a championship team? That is, of course, a different question entirely, one that is not exactly relevant for this iteration of the Bulls.

The Bulls will continue to traverse this uncomfortable path, fraught with potholes and dead ends not preempted by the appropriate signage. Yet, for all of the complaints about how this team is no fun to watch, I've found that it has often been quite the opposite. Guys like Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and even Jimmy Butler have the opportunity to help lead the Bulls to victory; when Rose returns, that won't likely need to continue.

This is by no means a bad thing, as depending on those guys is not a steady formula for success. Watching the Bulls try to cobble together victories with this roster is like playing a game of Jenga on the beach during high tide. The tower will come down, and you probably should have thought to find a better spot to play. But, until then, the anticipation leading up to that moment makes things a little more exciting than they ought to be.

I will welcome more of these kinds of blowouts upon Rose's return, but that does not mean that we cannot enjoy this team as it is. For all of its flaws, the Bulls are 14-10, firmly in the playoff picture and Joakim Noah is having an unbelievable season that you should try to appreciate in between snarky comments about Kirk Hinrich and the Bulls' front office.

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