Bulls vs. Celtics: Both defenses dominated for runs, but the Bulls' were bigger

The Bulls and Celtics both blew leads in their Thursday game at the United Center, but the Bulls pulled out the 89-80 win. Kent McDill called it a "game of streaks" and that it was.

The Celtics scored 12 in the first four minutes of the game, but only 68 over the final 44, despite a 22-7 run over an eight-minutes stretch of their 26-point third quarter.

The same Bulls that gave up those two runs to have the Bulls playing catch-up early blew a 16-point lead in that third quarter was the defense that dominated to allow only 34 points in the other 36 minutes of the game. The help was quick all contest, but recovering to shooters was inconsistent. And, as the Bulls are crafted, the rebounding killed Cs' possessions to reward the defense.

On the other end, the Bulls Bench Mob had problems converting possessions, but the offensive rebounds turned the contest into a game of keep away. The Bulls out-hustled a Celtics squad uncharacteristically crashing the boards very hard. The Bulls still won those battles to elongate their own possessions and prevent the Celtics from getting into an offensive rhythm for the remainder of the half. Limiting Boston's touches had them iced to setup a 20-3 run when Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, and Luol Deng returned to the game with Mike James running the offense at the point to relieve the struggling C.J. Watson and John Lucas III.

Doc Rivers still runs the Tom Thibodeau defense in Boston, but with a lot more zone. That made it difficult for the Bulls to get inside without erratic ball movement; and no one knows better than Thibs that this is the only way to get inside against a defense fixated on spacing and strong-side aggressiveness (27 of Bulls' 30 FGs were assisted). In the second quarter, Mike James and his bigs used the Cs pick n' roll defense against them by turning it into a three-man game, as the pick setter was simply a tool to handle the ball in the middle of the floor (Boozer: five assists) -- instead of being a scorer -- and using the defense's imbalance find the most efficient shot.

As Doc is prone to do, he adjusted to put more balance into the zones, so he Bulls couldn't simply put the ball in the weak side (James: four assists in 17 minutes) or open up the middle with widespread perimeter ball movement (Deng: ten assists).

The Cs zones also conflicted with their need to rebound the ball well to kill Bulls possessions, so when the ball couldn't get inside, Bulls ball-handlers used their drives to the hole to open up shooters. The Bulls took advantage by shooting 10-for-21 on 3s -- compared to only 17 long-2 attempts (hitting only two), which the Cs defense wants to force at all times because they're inefficient and easier for helpers to recover for challenges.

The Cs attempted the same, but only went 3-for-15 on 3s (Paul Pierce and Mickael Pietrus combined to go 0-for-7). The only strong stretches for the Cs offense involved a couple of 3s by Ray Allen and defensive breakdowns where Pierce and Rajon Rondo were able to penetrate. Otherwise, Boston was largely pushed to the outside and strong challenges when anticipating 3s forced Cs to step up into the 2-point zone for long-2s -- on which they shot 9-for-25 (36%).

In a game of forcing long-2s, the Bulls won -- and with that, the game. Forcing the most inefficient shot can backfire when the rebounds aren't grabbed, as the offensive boards on those shots create very efficient shots. But the Cs don't have the athleticism to crash the boards on the offensive end and effectively get back on defense, so the Bulls almost made holding the Cs to six second chance points on six offensive boards look easy [.pdf].

The Bulls' ball movement added a high risk to the offense, which became 17 turnovers that Boston exploited for 18 points. And though the Bulls knew it'd be difficult to convert at the rim, the ball got there (17-for-32, 53.2%). The Bulls only scored 12 second chance points on 3-for-13 shooting in a game where Boston held them to 39.7% shooting, but the 16 offensive rebounds simply didn't reward the Cs defense enough. The Bulls' 34% offensive rebounding rate (ORR) and ten treys at 47.7% negated Boston's 0.95 points-per-possession D enough to score a full point-per-possession. And enough to reward their own defense for stops and minimize the Celtics' possessions just days after Boston beat them running the floor.

Team
OffEff
DefEff
Poss
EFG%
TOR
ORR
FTR
BOS
89.9
100.0
89
41.7
10.1
14.3
23.1
CHI
100.0
89.9
46.1
19.1
34.0
36.8

  • The Bulls' win on Thursday made them the first NBA team to reach 25 wins. They also advanced to an East-best 11-1 record at home (Spurs: 13-1).
  • The Bulls are now 3-1 over this four-game stretch without Derrick Rose (back), who participated in Thursday's shootaround. Advancing to 7-2 in games without Rose this year adds to encouraging he sit "until he's pain-free", as everyone close to the situation is communicating.

    "I don’t believe in the things about sitting a guy out because it is this opponent or that opponent," Thibs told ESPN 1000 Wednesday. "I think if a guy is injured he sits out regardless of who you are playing. If he’s hurting, can play, and can’t do further damage, then he plays. We are going to be smart with him. If he needs rest then we are going to rest him. We feel very good about our bench and the guys we have. We feel that we have more than enough to win with regardless of who may be in or out."
  • Boozer's 23 point, 11-for-15, double-double night is the "type of performance is something that terrifies Eastern teams", Royce Young wrote. He's right.
  • The Bulls are now 14-2 when having the higher ORR than their opponents. This is the most underrated element of the Bulls' ability to trudge through a stretch of the regular season resting Rose and Richard Hamilton through injuries. There's a difference between missing shots and not scoring to this Bulls team, which by far leads the NBA with a 31% ORR.

    With 8:42 remaining in the game and the Bulls only slightly up 69-67, the Bulls had a shot clock violation. To which the TNT cameras picked up a pacing Thibs screaming, "Goddammit! Shoot the fucking ball!"

    A comedic moment for spectators, but a gut reaction reflective of a coach who sees the worst case scenario of a bricked shot as the ball getting closer to the basket and available for the bigs to go up and get it. Of course, shot selection, ball movement, and pace are stressed. But this team has no choice but to buy into coaching that errs on the side of aggression and trust its size.
  • Thibs' squad exploded again after a timeout. Over the last two seasons, you almost know the Bulls are gonna' start kicking some ass when a timeout is called in the fourth quarter. After the shot clock violation, Thibs had a couple of minutes with his team, subbing Deng back into the game and keeping James as the point. Allen tied the game with a jumper and the Bulls followed that up with a 12-0 run to put the game away.
  • New Twitter hashtag for Bulls-Celtics games: #FuckPietrus?

Advanced Box Score via Hoopdata.

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