Bulls take down Celtics with usual formula: Rose lights up, Defense shuts down

Celtics vs Bulls boxscore Pace Eff eFG FT/FG OREB% TOr
Boston 85.0 95.3 39.7% 31.5 18.6 12.9
Chicago
114.1 53.2% 17.9 25.0 14.1

 

With the Bulls having now all but locked up the #1 seed, it's likely they'll never see the Celtics again this season, especially after seeing how inept their offense looked against the Bulls tonight. We know the C's have had problems since their injuries and  trade-deadline moves (and the loss of Kendrick Perkins has sorta overshadowed the bigger problem, which is Jeff Green stinks), but they better hope things are getting better for them, as the Bulls were able to completely shut them down in the 2nd half.

It was an interesting run in that half: the Bulls had started out hot but a couple lax moments in transition forced a Thibs timeout, and he subbed in Kurt Thomas and Ronnie Brewer for Noah and Bogans. That group stayed in for most of the rest of the game, which could be telling in a few ways as we start to learn Thibodeau's possible playoff rotations:

  • It could mean the 'bench mob' may be on a show-me basis. It's been a curiosity to figure how a team with a true 10-deep roster would adjust to the usual shorter rotations of the playoffs. In the first half the bench unit had a rare stint where they let a lead slip away (Boston's bench is pretty deep it's own right), and it was not seen again in the 2nd half until the game had already been decided.
  • Could mean Kurt Thomas may be the go-to playoff backup center over Omer Asik. Thomas only had 2 points and 5 rebounds in his 19 minutes, but his impact on the defense was obvious in that 2nd half, and his ability to demoralize Big Baby Davis was a nice touch too. We've seen Thibodeau go to Thomas first if subs are needed early, as he likes to see Asik in with the entire bench unit, but if Thomas is playing well he'll stay in. I do worry there will be a time where even when he's not playing well he'll stay in, and that's now 2 straight games of under 6 minutes played for Asik.
  • Could mean Joakim Noah is still hurt. This is apparent regardless of any possible eye at the playoff rotations, as Noah was getting pulled earlier than normal in his stints and didn't play the entire 4th quarter. Both KC Johnson and Kelly Dwyer tweeted from press row that they could see Noah working on that ankle during the game. 

And to that last point, with Noah still looking slowed, and therefore no real progress on the Noah+Boozer front, the Bulls still absolutely dominated a fellow top-tier Eastern Conference team.

Along with a lack of Boozer+Noah dividends, another worrisome aspect over the recent stretch had been slow starts. That did not happen in tonight's game, mostly due to Derrick Rose. He had 10 first quarter points and started off his highlight-laden performance with this crossover on Rajon Rondo, and later in the first half threw in this impossibly-angled floater.

Listing other contributors starts with Luol Deng, overcoming early foul trouble to outscore his long-time rival Paul Pierce (seriously!) 23-15, Keith Bogans had two 3-pointers in his initial stint to help the hot start, Carlos Boozer had a brief spurt of dominance in the 2nd half against the C's backup bigs...but this offense was nearly all Derrick Rose tonight. He finished with 30 points on 16 shots, insanely efficient, and he still could (scarily) have been even better considering some of the 3-pointers he attempted. 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and the halftime highlight package from Mike Fratello focused on him setting a screen.

And yet, even considering all his brilliance (and placed alongside Rondo's opposite-of-brilliance, made to look even that much better), Rose still saw the Celtics hanging in close for much of the 3rd quarter. It was a game that felt better watching that the score indicated. But the Bulls have more than one star, and it was the defense that put the game out of reach. The Celtics couldn't run at all, matched their best playmakers (Pierce and the KG fadeaway) well, and looked completely stifled at points while they stared at a Davis 20 footer.

And some of that was indeed the Celtics just looking bad. Is it something that the Bulls can expect that often in the playoffs when going against these higher-level opponents? Not likely to that magnitude (and I know we all like to make fun of Rajon Rondo, but...actually that's it, we like to make fun of Rondo, and he was terrible), but the Bulls have some things to work on themselves that can get them even better.

And looking great right now isn't the goal, anyway. The #1 seed was, and attaining it so early not only gives them the final week of the season but also a gimme first round to better figure out Noah+Boozer, playoff rotations, and finding Rose some consistent offensive help. Make this domination of the Celtics seem like ain't no thing.

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