alien sonofabitch - Jonathan Daniel
With Kirk Hinrich out and another usual (if one-sided) rival well out of the way, Rajon Rondo was surely licking whatever aliens have for 'chops' and took it to the Bulls all night. Nate Robinson is not that bad of a defender, but allowing Rondo a consistent unencumbered ability to survey the Bulls defense was deadly. Rondo failed to get to the line in this game but did pretty much everything else: finishing a rebound shy of a triple-double with his 20 points and 10 assists. The Celtics were rolling in the first half to numbers usually unfathomable against the Bulls: 58 points on 59.5% shooting and only 4 turnovers.
The Bulls were able to make an exciting 4th quarter of it when Rondo received some rest (::Thibs confused face::) with new backup PG Marquis Teague helping to lead the Bulls to within 2 points. Joakim Noah and Luol Deng were huge in this stretch and each had phenomenal games, while Teague surprisingly showed some penetration ability and improved defense after struggling on that end for the first half against Leandro Barbosa. But ultimately a closing lineup of Teague/Butler/Deng/Taj/Noah is about two shooters short of ideal (with Thibs not making any substitutions in the last 5 minutes), and they missed several opportunities to take over the lead including some late FTs. The Celtics had an abysmal shooting quarter themselves, regressing after that blistering first half with their old asses, but ultimately received some timely jumpers from Jason Terry and a couple of immaculately-designed lob plays from Rondo to Kevin Garnett.
What the Bulls did have in their favor all night was the frontcourt play. I still maintain (and this wasn't an unpopular opinion) that if Joakim Noah didn't get hurt in the Sixers series, the Bulls not only would've advanced to the second round but could have beaten Boston once there. Boston's bigs have always had trouble with the Bulls power game, and even though they've become a bit deeper and the Bulls are a bit worse this season, with Noah and Deng leading the way it's still an advantage. The Bulls didn't have one of their classic offensive-rebound-dominant games, but did keep their own defensive boards from the C's at a 85% rate. This advantage was especially the case when Kevin Garnett went out and all that's left is undersized and unathletic, with even Nate getting some boards over what the Celtics had up front. All these factors led to even Carlos Boozer having a solid first stint to the ballgame with several jumpers. However, as it's Boozer, he tailed off and was part of an atrocious 3rd quarter that saw him and Rip pull up on semi-breakaways to horribly miss 5-foot jumpers. I get why the Bulls have to run, but it doesn't mean they'll be that good at it.
Both Booz and Rip sat the entire fourth quarter, as did Nate Robinson, with Thibs showing once again he'll go with any lineup he can if he thinks it's working. As long as it includes Deng and Noah. And not Boozer, who's been sitting for 5 straight fourths now...Taj didn't have a good game either, but good stuff is more likely to happen when he plays. The Celtics probably were kicking themselves for their own sloppy 3rd quarter play not getting them an early blowout, but while a Teague-helmed lineup made it very interesting, the Celtics ultimately never wound up trailing in the game.