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.
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.