Pace: 88 possessions (slow)
Offensive Efficiency: 94.3 points scored/100 possessions (league worst)
Defensive Efficiency: 109.1 point scored/100 possessions (below average)
Thumbnail: My personal version of hell is standing on a hot New York City subway platform as train after train full of clapping Joakim Noahs goes by.
This is the game when you really felt the absence of Rasheed Wallace and Kevin Garnett. The Celtics just could not find open space inside tonight. Almost every time the Celtics managed to get the ball in the lane, two or three Chicago defenders were there with hands up to contest any potential shot and get in the way of any potential kick-out pass. It was hard work just getting a shot off; those 10 blocked shots Chicago recorded tonight ties the C’s season-high—set against Chicago in December—for blocks allowed.
It’s not just as simple as missing Rasheed Wallace’s ability to drag one large defender out to the three-point line, though that helps space the floor. Sheed and KG are also a threat to score from 15 feet and in, and defenders can’t just leave them 12 feet from the hoop to help on Rajon Rondo or Paul Pierce. Big Baby doesn’t quite merit that attention right now and Brian Scalabrine never has. Ditto for Shelden Williams, who, I’m sorry to say, was dreadful tonight on both ends of the court in 6:45 of play.
This isn’t an excuse. The Celtics could still have won had they not turned the ball over 18 times in a slow-paced game and shot better than 15-of-28 from the foul line. The game was there for the taking over and over, and each time the Celtics frittered away their chance to take it.
Whatever. You combine the health situation and the schedule, and this was a game the C’s were ripe to lose. Chicago hadn’t played since Monday, while Boston was finishing up a stretch of five games in seven days (or six games in nine days, if you prefer)—a stretch in which Rajon Rondo played at least 42 minutes in four straight games and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen logged at least 40 in three of the C’s prior five games.
If you think that amounts to an excuse, that these factors don’t matter, then you just don’t know the NBA. Accept the loss as holding very little long-term importance and move on.
There was just nothing available offensively tonight, outside of a spark from Eddie House (11 points on 5-of-6 shooting in 19 minutes). Paul Pierce could not shake Luol Deng, and when he did, Noah, Thomas and James Freaking Johnson were there. Rondo can shake anyone, and he did, but he had to work his ass off to hit 6-of-14 from the floor.
Perk took three shots in the 1st quarter and two combined over the 2nd and 3rd quarters before coming alive late in the game. He looked tired. I have no idea if he was tired, but he looked it and he vanished offensively for long stretches of the game.
Nothing easy, all game long.
The other end of the court made for a more interesting watch. Doug Collins (who took a shot from a diving Ty Thomas in the 2nd quarter) mentioned early on that Doc had warned the C’s that they’d have to defend 50 screen/rolls involving Derrick Rose. Here’s the thing about Chicago tonight: When they ran straight screen/rolls against a set Celtics defense, they had trouble getting good looks. Allow the C’s to get organized into their bread-and-butter screen/roll defense—Rondo chasing over the pick, the screener’s guy sliding over to help and everyone else rotating—and good looks will be hard to find.
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).
Toss in some sloppy gambling by Rondo (twice reaching for steals against Rose, once overplaying the passing lane on Deng and getting burned by a back door cut) and some efficient isolations from Deng, and you’ve got 109 points per 100 possessions for Chicago.
They played well. Let’s hope Vinny didn’t notice what worked and what didn’t.
• The easiest and laziest thing for a writer to do (other than criticizing the refs) is to criticize the coach about minutes management. Doc Rivers knows this team better than anyone on Planet Earth. I won’t second-guess him on minutes. I will, however, point out that if he is really concerned about the minutes Rondo, Pierce and Allen have been playing lately—and he says he is—that concern is not really reflected in his coaching. Tony Allen played a hair over 4:00 in the 2nd half. Yes, I know TA had about three TA moments in the first half, but if you’re concerned about resting guys—and you say you are—than he has to play a bit more.
• Here’s something that loosened up the offense a bit tonight, especially in the 2nd quarter and for stretches in the 3rd: involving Paul Pierce in screen/rolls with the team’s guards. In general, good things happen when the C’s involve Pierce in screen/rolls. We’ve seen them run the 1/3 screen/roll with House and Rondo (often forcing a switch that ends with a point guard on Pierce) and the 3/4 screen/roll with KG a thousand times each.
In the 2nd quarter, the C’s ran a sort of sped up version of the House-Pierce screen roll, with Eddie running toward Pierce as the captain dribbled at the top of the key. Eddie didn’t really set a screen when he got to Pierce; instead, he either ran right under Pierce’s man or through the space between Pierce and Pierce’s defender. And you really saw the impact the threat of Eddie’s shot can have on a defense. Eddie’s defender would duck under everything to try and stay parallel to Eddie, while Pierce’s defender would pause for a split second, wondering if he should switch onto House.
The action got Pierce some much-needed space to drive to the hoop. Of course, two shot-blockers were waiting when he got there, but that’s a different story.
• Let me ask you: Is there a point to writing about the impact of turnovers, or is everyone tired of hearing it? I’m not being facetious. The C’s turn the ball over a lot (only one team, Charlotte, turns it over more often), and they’ve turned it over a lot since the beginning of the ’08 season. So this isn’t going to change.
And they were killer turnovers tonight. The C’s get within 70-65 and get a stop, only to have Shelden Williams drop a nice lead pass from Rajon Rondo near the basket. (Note: The play-by-play has this as a “bad pass/turnover” for Rondo, but I disagree. It was a tough catch under the hoop, and it likely wouldn’t have produced a basket, but Shelden cannot drop that ball out of bounds). The C’s get with in 83-77 and get a stop, only to have Rondo throw a no-chance-in-hell outlet pass about 30 feet down court that Taj Gibson easily intercepts.
Look: You can’t turn the ball over on 21 percent of your possessions in a slow-paced game. You just don’t give yourself enough chances to put the ball in the basket if you do that.
But this problem won’t go away. Should I develop some short hand and leave it at that. TMT=Too Many Turnovers?
• I thought Harlan and Collins did a nice job explaining why the Bulls were almost inevitably going to rack up a ton of offensive boards tonight. The Bulls are a top-five offensive rebounding team. Put them up against a tired club missing two to their three best defensive rebounders, and the Bulls will get some second chances.
A huge percentage of the offensive boards Boston allows are set up long before a shot actually goes up—by a switch that leaves a big man guarding someone on the perimeter or via dribble penetration that necessitates help. You guys know this, I realize. Two things to watch: 1) The C’s have to avoid over-switching on screen/rolls, and they usually do; 2) If the C’s are really focused on protecting the glass, the players guarding the corner shooters are going to have to slide into offensive rebounding position when a big guy in the paint leaves his man to help on dribble drives.
But that has its own risks.
• The Celtics went small for about two minutes in the 4th quarter tonight, and you saw the perils of going small. Rondo tried to force an entry pass into Pierce, who was posting up Taj Gibson at the left elbow. Except Pierce isn’t really strong enough to control Gibson, and Taj muscled up and knocked the ball away. Another killer turnover. People tend to fall in love with the idea of going small, because it looks spectacular when it works. People thought it really helped the Bulls last year in the playoffs, even though there isn’t much evidence to support that idea.
• I really like Taj Gibson. It’s an obvious storyline, but he’s sort of the opposite of Ty Thomas. He plays within himself, does nothing exciting and can actually hit the jump shots he takes.
• What has happened to Brad Miller?
• An 0-of-4 performance from deep for Ray, and he’s now shooting 35.5 percent from three this season. That would be the worst mark of his career. At what point do we become worried about this?
That’s it for tonight. The C’s have three much-needed days off before facing Dallas at home on MLK Day. Rasheed Wallace is hoping to be back in the line-up for that game. The team needs him.