The Bulls only lost to the Celtics by four in Boston on a Sunday afternoon where the Cs extended their lead to 14 with 5:08 remaining in the game. But the fails that led to that lead and many deficits throughout the game stand out.
The Bulls were down by 11 midway through the first quarter and closed the lead to one with a 10-0 run. But that run was immediately followed up with an 8-0 run by the Cs. If the first fail was Boston's early monster lead, the second was wasting their effort to close the gap and be down by nine with a couple of minutes remaining in the quarter. The Bulls ended the quarter within five and split the second quarter to be down by only five at halftime; but the third fail was a second quarter where they only allowed 20 points, yet couldn't make up any ground by only shooting 32% for only 20 points themselves [.pdf].
Boston's lead hovered between three-and-six for most of the third quarter, keeping the Bulls well within reach, but a 14-4 turnover-riddled run allowed to the Cs put the game away in a fourth fail. The Bulls came out of a timeout with a 14-3 run, but those four stretches of fail proved to be four too many as the constant task was to climb out of holes they themselves dug by not having answers for a stifling Celtics' D and a fatigue-plagued transition D without the enegry to stop Boston from running the floor in transition after the Cs forced stops.
Bad shot selection, a moronic timeout, some missed free throws and such in the final couple of minutes weren't the inflection points of the game, as the Bulls were outplayed in totality for so much of the afternoon -- proven by a wealth of data:
- The Bulls only turned the ball over 13 times and forced 19 from the Cs, but the Cs scored 18 on those opportunities and the Bulls could only convert those yips into 14 points. (I mean, seriously, WTF?!?) Lacking third efforts killed the Bulls' chances are squeaking out a W. It was the difference between a gutsy win and a lipstick-on-a-pig ugly loss.
- The Celtics scored 33 (!!!) fastbreak points on 13-for-13 shooting, despite only 38 in the paint. Add in that the Bulls forced six more turnovers and scored only seven points on the break and it's clear which team ran the floor better on both ends in a clearly decisive manner. Nine of the Cs' 19 turnovers were Bulls steals, but the Bulls only got three fastbreak shots in the air.
- Sure, the Cs only scored 95, but shot 49.3% from the floor. This limited the Bulls' opportunities to run the floor and jump on Boston's D before they could set in a game where they already had enormous issues being opportunistic on their already high rate of opportunities in other areas of the game. The Bulls were out-rebounded by only because they forced 16 less bricks then the Cs. So, don't let the 97.9 points-per-100 possessions fool you; the Bulls' D failed the game just enough to lose as well.
- That said, Derrick Rose's .500 eFG% against the Cs, dating back to last season, was sorely missed. The Bulls shot an abysmal 38.7% from the field, and are now 12-8 (including the playoffs) during the Tom Thibodeau Era when shooting under 40%. So close to even, getting held that low against a great defense when your own defense is struggling and the team in general is in the ninth game of a two-week road trip should expect to shatter chances of grabbing that margin of error.
- C.J. Watson was the basketball equivalent of a hot mess. There's no question he's adept at getting through defenses and finishing at the rim, but when his flopping doesn't get rewarded, you get a high-hustle superaggressive 8-for-23 shooting to diminish a 22-point game. He got to line for only six FTA, but bricked three; and I say "only six" because he shot 3-for-9 at the rim. Throuhgout his career, he's consistently had slightly more FTAs than shots at the rim. That almost 4:1 ratio the other way of aggressiveness-to-FTAs was due to great help defense by the Cs, but also a C.J. struggling to explode as well as normally. It's cool to also chalk that up to the minutes demanded of him during Rose's injuries and a ridiculous amount of recent travel under the belt.
- The loose ball war was again the Bulls' old reliable. What's encouraging about a game where the Bulls struggled to use aggressiveness efficiently and consistently had problems recovering to the defensive end after failing so often with the ball was the strong, commendable effort to score 20 second chance points on 15 offensive boards. But still only 8-for-18 on those second chances in a game where they could only shoot 17-for-35 (48.6%) at the rim showed that even when those second efforts were there, there just wasn't enough in the tank for those third efforts -- whether it was converting more offensive boards and forced turnovers into points, helping in transition, recovering to shooters after preventing penetration, or getting the rebounds after effectively boxing out Boston's bigs. The second efforts will always keep the Bulls competitive in games to prevent them from getting blown out when it's there, but they're simply not going to be consistently efficient enough in the halfcourt and NBA offenses are too tough to have those third efforts disappear.
- Joakim Noah is "back to where he was at the [beginning of] last season, prior to his injury," according to Thibs before Sunday's game. He reported got hurt in Sacramento during the 15th game of last season. He was averaging 15.6 PPG, 13.2 RPG, shooting 52.8%, 1.5 SPG and BPG, 2.7 APG, scoring in double-digits every game for nine double-doubles and less than three fouls per game, playing 39.0 MPG over those first 15 games (without Carlos Boozer).
He's played 14 of the last 15 games, logging 12.0 PPG, 11.1 RPG, a .623 FG%, 0.9 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 2.9 APG, scoring in double digits in 11 games with nine double-doubles, playing 32.3 MPG over this current span. There's definitely a heightened level of aggressiveness in his game over the last four weeks that's beeen increasingly more consistent. And that's crucial, as Noah putting forth 100% is vastly different from the horror of what he is when long shifts take the wind out of him and his reaction time is as little a half-step short.
- With Watson and Ronnie Brewer starting for the injured Rose and Richard Hamilton, the bench is absent of reliability. "On a night where the team needed a boost as they played without the league's reigning MVP, Chicago's second unit managed a mere 16 points collectively, while shooting a putrid 26.1 percent from the field (6-of-23)," Brian Robb noted.
What's required of energy from the Bulls' defense almost requires nine or ten players in the rotation being effective at at least on end of the floor -- or at least being a threat to the opponent. Kyle Korver's always going to demand attention, whether or not he's only 1-for-5 from the outside -- as he was Sunday. But when the opposing defense raises the liability of Omer Asik playing more than his ten minutes and Taj Gibson is completely challenged without the ball and after grabbing his three offensive boards, the risk of both getting shut down is displayed by not having Brewer cut to the hole without the ball and C.J. disrupting on the perimeter.
- Rose "will see a specialist Monday" before the Bulls start a six-game homestand. Luckily, the coming week has a couple of softballs and no back-to-backs; the Bulls enter the week an NBA-best 23-7, despite 20 of their first 30 on the road. That said, the Tuesday's opponents, the Kings, can run the floor and recently picked off a sloppy Thunder squad.
- The Bulls are (unsurprisingly) largely unimpressed by winning six on their nine-game road trip. They'll feel better as the first of their two six-game homestands over the next five weeks begins right about now. They're 9-1, allowing a ridiculous 81.0 PPG and a .426 eFG%, at the United Center this season.
- Enough's been said of Boozer's facepalm-inducing defense from Sunday, how about that hair? No reports as to whether or not he listened to an El Debarge playlist before the game, but would it really surprise anyone?
Advanced Box Score via Hoopdata.