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Celtics-Bulls: What Went Wrong

 

Here’s an easy visual way to sum up Boston’s loss to Chicago last night.

First — on defense.

Derrick Rose cannot be guarded by Rajon Rondo one-on-one. I don’t know if there’s anyone that can stop him in single coverage. Maybe you can slow him down. But add a pick to free him up and the task becomes nearly impossible.

Of course, the Celtics hate double-teaming, but Rose is so explosive off the dribble, you have to send a second guy at him or he’ll barrel right to the rim. He’s got the attention of three Boston defenders in this first shot. And that’s still not enough to keep him from laying the ball in.

And as this second shot shows, even if you cut him off, which requires two defenders, you’ve got people standing open on the perimeter, like Keith Bogans (arms raised), who takes a pass from Rose here and knocks down a three pointer. Chicago was smart to pursue Ray Allen last summer. Having Rose means wide open looks on the perimeter. Last night they hit 9-22 from the arc (40.9%).

Here’s another drive down the middle of the lane. Rondo, as was typical last night, was watching Rose’s back as he flew into the paint. Rose went up for a finish with this one, but even if he didn’t, look at the spacing around him, and all his options. Kyle Korver‘s on the wing, ready to shoot a three-ball, Kurt Thomas is poised for a straight-on jumper, and there’s an open man under the basket, ready for a hand-off. Similar situations exist in each of these possessions.

The Celtics cut off the penetration here, with the help of three defenders. Rose dishes to Thomas for an easy jumper, but he also could have found Taj Gibson rolling down the middle of the paint for a layup. Rose doesn’t have Rondo’s creativity or facility when passing the ball but he doesn’t need it when he can create wide open shots as readily as he did last night.

And here’s one that should look familiar. It’s the highlight of the night, a ridiculous, if increasingly standard, Rose layup, the Bulls’ PG finishing in and around three defenders. Note: when you have three guys chasing one and still find your team unable to stop the offensive player from shooting a layup, you’re probably ticketed for a loss. Especially when it happens on multiple possessions.

See it here:

Rose’s blowbyability doesn’t mean the Bulls are unstoppable offensively. After all, we’re talking about a mid-level offense, which is attributable to a number of factors, including Chicago’s weakness at the shooting guard position, and entirely containable secondary offensive threats in Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng (not that you saw any evidence of that last night).

Boston failed to rotate to the open men because they were paying so much attention to Rose. Or they failed to contest because they were shy energy and effort. It’s a combination of both of these things, depending on the play you choose to look at. But with Rose doing whatever he wanted, Boston was behind the eight-ball in most defensive sets, trying to cover up the MVP-sized hole in the initial line of defense (although I would vote for Dwight Howard, not that you asked).

The other problem on the defensive end involved the Celtics’ bigs. The Glen Davis-Nenad Krstic combo is a nightmare. Davis is too small to contest larger players (read: most of them) and Krstic… *sigh*… Krstic just doesn’t play physical defense the way Celtics fans (and coaches) have gotten used to over the last few years. Add Jeff Green in there (did you see Boozer back him down with no effort at all; that’s the problem with him at the 4) and you’re left with just Jermaine O’Neal and Kevin Garnett to protect the rim with any kind of menace. JO’s on short minutes right now. And KG isn’t as physical a force without a rough pivot standing beside him.

It seems to me the Celtics can and will do a better job on Rose the next time they see the Bulls (in a perfect world, that’d be next October). But the lack of healthy, physical big men will plague them from here on out.

***

The offense actually generated some decent looks in the first half. And Boston missed most of them, be they open layups or contested inside shots. Here’s the Celtics’ shot chart from the evening. See if you can spot the massive cluster of ‘x”s in the painted area.

The image we had of the Celtics — from opening night 2007 to trade deadline 2011 — was of bad, bad men. They were one of the most disliked teams in the league for their rough and tumble style.

Which is interesting because the Celtics are a finesse team on offense.

They take a ton of mid-range jumpers. They don’t finish with power over contests at the rim. Their point guard studiously avoids contact on his drives. They have little inside offense (especially without Shaq) and tend towards fade away jumpers when they do go to the block.

The current version of this Celtics team can, it seems to me, be intimidated by a physical defense firing hard on all cylinders, as Chicago’s was during the final 1.5 quarters last night.

All the rotations the Boston defense didn’t make, the Bulls did. In re-watching the game overnight, it was incredible how often Boston’s passing appeared to free up Allen or Pierce or Garnett, only to have a Bulls defender flash in for the contest before they could make a move. Or how quickly the Chicago defenders built a wall to cut off Rondo’s penetration.

Like here:

This kind of thing happened on repeat. Boston made a pass, and Chicago cut it off. Boston made another pass or set another pick and the Bulls cut off the resulting offensive action.

Eventually, the shot clock wound down. Jumpshots were taken. Defensive rebounds were claimed. And a one-possession game in the third quarter became a blowout by the middle of the fourth.

To be clear — take no comfort in the idea that Boston gave away this game. That didn’t happen. It was taken from them. Chicago was clearly the better team. The Bulls could win a seven game series.

But, unless last night changed your mind, so could the Celtics. They can play a lot better. And they probably will, with tape of last night to inform their game plan. And maybe a few hard playoff fouls to spice up the proceedings.

So, despite the wipeout, I still think Boston’s biggest loss was in the standings, where the Celtics now face four consecutive big games to claim the #2 seed from Miami.

  • http://twitter.com/michaeljavid @michaeljavid

    …but Delonte West played well

    • Zee

      He always does. I wouldn't mind if he started and Rondo was the backup.

      • talesofJP

        Delonte played great, Rondo needs to take better care of the ball and stop trying "home-run" passes, they don't work against the best defensive team in the NBA (now the Bulls)

  • Zee

    Out of all of the teams in the NBA, the only one that concerns me most are the Bulls. Having a conference finals with them is like having to go to the finals FIRST before you can even get to the playoffs. Smh…

    No other team has left me with that embarrassed feeling this season except Chicago. It happened last game, and it happened this time. I felt bad for our team, because the Bulls truly did embarrass us on national television.

    At times I felt like we could easily blow them away. But missed layups and turnovers quickly took our confidence. It happened quite too often.

    One thing I noticed that seems to be one of our downfalls is fancy passes. Most of those passes (fancy ones) resulted in turnovers and steals. Stop trying to be fancy and whimsical and play some hard-nosed ball. Don't be afraid to body somebody and get physical while going to the board. Take the foul!

    Delonte West always appears confident while on the floor and very unmoved by the opposition. I feel very comfortable when he's on the floor. I feel he is less chaotic and handles the ball very well. And he can shoot very good. I believe a PG that can shoot is more of a threat than one who can make assists. One that can shoot can always make assists because the defense won't play off of him. One that primarily only makes assists only needs to be stood off of and the opposition only needs to guard their men. The ONLY times Rondo has been a real threat is when he attacks the basket. If he doesn't attack the basket, or shoot J's, you can forget it. Assists alone don't scare anyone. This is what you've explained above about Rose.

    Anyway, I don't even care what happens anymore with this regular season. This has been the worse season I could've imagined. It wasn't enjoyable due to to all of the drama we've been through. Injuries, Perks being traded, Shaq, West and JO being out most of the season, chemistry issues, and omre and more.

    I'm just ready for the playoffs, because right now as a fan I'm burned out. The game against Miami on Sunday. Does it even matter anymore? I'm not even excited about it.

    Sorry to be such a poor sport, but I'm just being transparent. Once the playoffs start – WHEN THINGS REALLY BEGIN TO MATTER – I'll begin to care again.

  • SteveB

    Silver lining in the upcoming playoffs-First round against either 76ers or Knicks. Not too bad. Meanwhile, Atlanta and Orlando face each other and one of them goes home. Round two we get the Heat who I feel the Celtics can beat even without home court advantage. That leaves the final round in the East against the Bulls if all goes according to plan. By that time they may get knocked out by an amazing Orlando run or they just might be worn down and wishing they didn't play Rose 47 minutes every game. So no Dwight Howard and no Hawks team that can give us fits. But man, the Bulls are playing great, right now.

    • Zee

      If Magic can knock the Bulls out, that would be heaven sent!

      • SteveB

        I really hate to count on the Bulls losing but the Celtics would have a much easier path to #18 without them in the way. That's why I think it's a good thing they have two round before any possible match up. A lot can happen in that time. As we know all too well, a team like Chicago is one big injury away from being a .500 team. Thibs had his starters in with a minute left last night. Not sure what kind of message that was trying to send but not a great idea. And compare that to Boston which will let the shot clock expire with a big lead that late in the game. Not last night, Bulls were hoisting up 3's. Hope the team took note, not that they need more incentive.

        • someguyinsac

          I too was wondering why Thibs was gambling with his starters in those last minutes given that the game was won by then.

  • TedL

    Awful game to watch. The Cs played scared, something I haven't seen in a long time. Not sure their A-game would've won tonight, but they brought their D-game.

  • JayAllDay

    Since i have had a few games to actually digest Green and Krstic in a celtic uniform i am convinced that the trade that brought them to boston was the worst in the NBA since the Fakers aquired Gasol. Neither plays defense, which is what this team is known for. Its almost as if Danny looked at a stat sheet and saw that some of the numbers matched up and pulled the trigger, without actually thinking about chemistry or the fact the they both are as soft as store brand tissue. If you actually watch them on the court enough you could probably throw up in your mouth a little. p.s. There is a reason that Oklahoma City did not want them anymore Danny, talented yes, but fit for this team no.

    • Chris O

      Agree man, what the Celtics lost is toughness when they lost Perk, Marquis and Nate. They needed to get a Jamario Moon or Gerald Wallace (since both were available) without trading Perk (which could have been done). Jamario would have looked nice, Wallace even better.

  • GREENMAN

    Let's not forget how poorly we finished off last year. This is a different team come playoff time. Guys are rested, which makes a HUGE difference when you have a team spoorting as many old dudes as this one. Days off between every game, simply stated, that is why this team is on another level come playoffs. So unless the change the format in the next week, you can expect a much better team in the playoffs. Jermaine Oniel will be capable of more minutes and Shaq will get his too. Its a big difference if we only have to put Kristic out there for 5 min a game. No NEED to Panic. Sure Home court helps but we are capable of stealing homecourt back game one of every series.

    Everyone thinks its a sure thing that we will face the Bulls in ECF's but don't sleep on Orlando. They are capable of beating Chicago in a 7 game. Rose's ability at the Rim is seriously limited when Howard is in the game, and as good as Thibs is, he doesn't have a guy that can gaurd Howard 1 on 1. Noah would get Owned. Thomas, haha yeah right. Boozer would be fouled out by halftime.

  • DRose

    Three Words…EMMM VEEE PEEE!

  • DRose

    And please, stop ASSuming you'll be in the ECF to "meet" the Bulls. Handle your business and try playing some defense for a change and maybe, just maybe…you'll get a chance to play the Heat for an opportunity to "meet" the Bulls.

    • jade

      I actually kind of liked you. Until you started trolling.

  • johnschaffer

    i cant believe Thibeau woud play his point guard 44 min , even though leading by 15 points in last few min to play ,, was he rubbing it in??by time playoffs come i think he will be sorry when rose is broken i dont care if hes younger than rondo he will be tired

    • Mike

      They're good on defense but they suck on offense without rose because they don't have anyone to sub him. I feel this team in that sense is kinda like last years Cleveland team with lebron being like rose and while in the regular season some teamates will score some decent points come playoff we will beat them by making sure they're contained. Because like lebron, rose will get his numbers but we need to contain the others.

  • Janos

    Is game for Celtic look to recover pride next time. Often, team that get embarass keep this lock inside and then bring out for next meet, in playoff. Would not want be celtic first round match, this team has pride blow and is going recover fine. KG is tall man, proud man. Maybe we see him take game to new level in playoff, could be last kick at cat for him in playoff match time. Is better lose 20 than lose 2 point. Can take away pain from 2 but anger from 20.

  • CG12

    Rose is the perfect player to exploit Rondo's defensive weaknesses. Rondo doesn't worry about position and always reaches for the steal, without worrying about keeping his man in front of him. The result was that Rose simply went by him, with little difficulty. Rose is awesome and you will never stop him, but we can do better than that. Delonte did a far better job on Rose.

    The size issue definitely reared its head again last night. The Cs are getting pounded on their defensive boards. Depending on what we can get from Shaq, it might be time to try giving Murphy more minutes to see if he can help. He has always been an elite defensive rebounder. Jeff Green is getting crushed at the 4 spot.

    The Cs showed a hesitance on offense that I really hate seeing. The obvious pass to someone posting up wide near the 3-point line – steal waiting to happen. PP putting his head down and driving into 4 guys in the paint. Rondo waiting for the shot clock to run down to 10 before doing anything, for no apparent reason. No attempt to post up any one, ever. They can do better than that.

  • kricky

    They are the better team right now. We just could not hang with them at either end of the court.

    Silver lining" Doc only played KG 30 minutes and JO 17. Bulls did most of their damage with KG on the bench. Maybe we can do better with these guys playing bigger minutes.

  • loyal fan

    Big Baby is too fat and slow and cannot get off the floor. Rondo has regressed to a nunmber two behind West.

    Cannot make a layup unless there is no defender. Is not a shooting or FT threat.

  • jtkl

    Delonte West is not the answer people. You are judging him against Chicago's second unit. He had only a few possessions against and was owned. On one play Rose drove by him like he was standing still, On the second play Rose canned a three in his mug.

    Delonte is a tough solid player. He is a starter for many teams. He isn't Rondo. As much as Rose out-played Rondo last night. He'd do it even worse to West.

  • rtifishul

    I disagree, Rondo can in fact guard Rose, one-on-one. The playoffs will tell that story. For now, check the box scores of the first two meetings this season. Rondo neutralized him, I'd say.

  • DP

    Let’s be honest… It wasn’t even our defense that lost the game for us… We shot 38.4%… You can’t shoot like that and win. 20% from 3… We played like garbage on offense, hardly moving the ball and took a lot of contested shots instead of finding the open man.

    You’re crazy if you think Rondo’s ability to make plays doesn’t make or break this team. The only bright spot of this game was in the 2nd when Rondo was playing aggressive ball. West starting over Rondo… Get a grip.

  • Chris O

    They need to play Green at the 2, and they need to trap Rose and then keep the ball from him.

  • Chris O

    Actually the 3rd quarter we looked good as well. What killed the team and the momentum was Pierce's lazy passes from the top of the key. It turned a very close game into an 11 point lead to close the 3rd. That killed this team, on the score board, mentally and physically…I don't know why but Pierce was p p aggressive

  • Kevster54

    For anybody who still thinks Rondo can lead the Celtics to a title is blind and not watching the Celtics play. Rondo half the time cant hit a jumper and does not play defense. His idea of defense is to reach in for a steal while the opposing guard blows past him, leaving the Celtic bigs constantly trying to help exposing wing players to open shots . Plus watch how many times a game Rondo decides to walk down the court while the other team is in transition leaving the other Celtics trying to stop 5 on 4. When he turns the ball over(most turnovers per game in the league) he walks down the court moping. The only hope the Celtics have is to get West to start and have Rondo as backup. West is a good player without Rondos weaknesses.

    • TedL

      Uh. Rondo already has a championship.

  • D P

    Kevster, you're crazy man, did you watch this game? The only time the Celtics looked like they had a shot was when Rondo was being aggressive in the second half. He's actually 8th in turnovers per game, but he's 2nd in steals and 2nd in assists… when you're the primary play maker, you're going to get a lot of turnovers, look who has more turnovers per game… Rose, Williams, James, Howard, Nash, Westbrook… Having a lot of turnovers, doesn't mean you're not a great player… all great players that are the primary ball handlers on their team lead the league in turnovers. He AVERAGES a double double… I really don't know how you could really think West is a better player.

    Rondo and the Celtics in general haven't been focused, you don't bench one of your best players because he's not focused at the end of the season. I'm glad we have West, he's decent, and could maybe start for non-contenders… he's not a super star. Rondo is (or soon will be). When he plays well, the Celtics do well.

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