Hey, I said I had a feeling about last night! We know the Bulls, down bad as they have been this season, aren’t like a 12th seed kinda team. And the Boston Celtics, though very good and proven, aren’t like best-offense-in-years good and NBA teams don’t win 10 games in a row very often.
But I did think it would be just some outlier shooting dud by the Celtics, and that wasn’t the case in their loss in Chicago. They shot a perfectly fine 38% on 50 (!) attempts from distance.
If anything, it was the Bulls that had the outlier, going 48.3% (14/29) and to 4-0 on the season when they hit more than 40 percent of their triples.
But what I thought was a major difference in this matchup is that the Bulls size actually gave an opponent problems versus it usually being the other way around. The Celtics don’t play that big to begin with, and have been without Robert Williams for this whole season. Williams is almost LonzoBall-ian in importance for the Celtics, and their defense which was amazing in the second half of last season has suffered even while their offense has still gained them a lot of early season victories without him.
So in this matchup, Nikola Vucevic was able to make an impact:
A lot of the good stuff that coaches like Billy Donovan do doesn't get noticed by fans.— Steph Noh (@StephNoh) November 22, 2022
Here's a simple but well-designed ATO, taking advantage of Celtics' switching scheme to get a mismatch + layup for Vucevic. pic.twitter.com/P05I85eVfd
It was also a remarkable rebounding advantage for the Bulls. They gobbled up nearly 90% of the available defensive rebounds, and the Celtics were missing more than usual so that was huge.
That starts with Vuc, but it helps that the Bulls have 48 minutes of beef at their disposal. In only 13 of those minutes, Andre Drummond had 8 defensive rebounds and 4 offensive. The Celtics had Luke Kornet:
Andre Drummond uses his size for the put-back pic.twitter.com/A3VtSqQLOT— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) November 22, 2022
Last season’s backup center, Tony Bradley, had a season-high rebounding total of 9, in over double the minutes Drummond played yesterday. I still loathe to see Drummond do anything but rebound, but he has looked elite in that skill, still, all season.
The Celtics are a team that doesn’t value the offensive glass much (28th in the league in OReb%) and also defensively don’t value gaining possessions via the turnover (dead last). The Bulls have backslid this season in their own offense in turnovers, but last night got right and had 10.1% of their possessions end in turnovers, which would be best in basketball.
In particular, Alex Caruso has been really bad at this all season but in 28 minutes had zero turnovers. Some of that is Boston’s style (ability?) but perhaps the Bulls were just more decisive and methodical given their size advantage:
And here a pass isn’t even required as Ayo Dosunmu bolts in the lane with an ‘assist’ from Vuc just trucking defenders out of the way for him.
Ayo slices through the Celtics' D pic.twitter.com/1telvOUnuu— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) November 22, 2022
The biggest variable was how Patrick Williams produced. The Celtics were clearly allowing him to shoot. It could’ve been another game where Williams was over-cautious and bogged down the starting lineup but he quickly adjusted, launched, and converted:
Celtics came in to Chicago with a gameplan to ignore Patrick Williams when he's on offense. They've been sagging way off to clog the lane, not bothering to close out hard on his open looks. He's 3-of-5 to start the game. pic.twitter.com/j0oqJ35ogu— Steph Noh (@StephNoh) November 22, 2022
It’s encouraging, but not very encouraging. The whole release is still slow as hell. Williams had a couple nice isolation plays scoring in midrange but the process looked like he was about to lose the ball instead of the scoring result.
As far as sustainability for the team, I still think they should start Caruso and Green. I don’t get the concept of having ‘energy off the bench’ when you’re putting yourself in a hole and losing so many of these games. But last night, the starting lineups were very good so the bench only magnified it. They look to have a unique advantage against the Celtics, where Vuc can do more damage. And Williams had a good game that hopefully isn’t an outlier going forward but has been when looking at this season.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t win more games on this roadtrip against fellow-mid squads where they may not have this distinct matchup edge but have overall more talent. The Bulls showed last night that they’re not as bad as their record.