Rondo, Celtics pick apart road-weary Bulls

331395.jpg

Rondo, Celtics pick apart road-weary Bulls

Friday, Dec. 3, 2010
Updated 11:56 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

BOSTON Derrick Rose isnt known for being the most verbose person in the world, but his postgame summary of what ails the Bulls was as accurate as they come.

Were out of sync right now, the Bulls All-Star point guard told CSNChicago.com. Were making the game harder than what it is and we need to change it.

In a matchup many regarded as a measuring stick of Chicagos progress with the much-anticipated addition of Carlos Boozer on his second trial run the Bulls (9-8) fell to the Celtics (15-4), 104-92, Friday evening.

Forget measuring up to the leagues elites Chicago couldnt get out of its own way as poor shot selection, lackluster defense, below-average rebounding, low energy and what is now becoming trademark slow starts to the game and following intermission plagued the Bulls in the loss.

Those negative aspects were compounded by Bostons crisp offensive execution, stout team defense, the top-flight playmaking ability of point guard Rajon Rondo and a vintage night from venerable veteran Kevin Garnett.

Although Rose (20 points, eight assists) got off to a quick and aggressive start, a balanced Boston attack put the Bulls in an early hole, as all five Celtics starters were on the board by midway through the first quarter.

An early positive sign for the visitors was Boozers (12 points) outside touch, as the power forward knocked down two mid-range jumpers albeit uncovered showing hed make more of an impact in his second game back from injury.

On a more disappointing note, the Celtics were able to get easy transition opportunities seemingly at will Ray Allen (14 points), in particular, more noted as a sharpshooter, was a beneficiary as well as deep post position that led to point-blank baskets from Garnett (20 points, 17 rebounds, six assists) and Shaquille ONeal (12 points, five rebounds).

Adding to the Bulls woes was their own poor shot selection and errant marksmanship, which allowed Boston to further widen the gap

Theyre a quality team, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. I thought we had some good shots in the first quarter. We missed. We came back and defensively, were hanging a little bit and we cant do that. We cant allow our offense to affect us defensively.

I thought we played low energy defensively instead of having greater fight down there and theyre a great shooting team. Youve got to challenge their shots. Theyre also posting the ball a lot more and weve got to fight harder, keep the ball out of the paint. I didnt think we did that. I thought defensively, we gave them too much.

Taj Gibson (10 points, eight rebounds), now in a reserve role, gave the Bulls a nice spark off the bench, enabling the Garden guests to quickly close on the home team.

Backup point guard C.J. Watson and reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer in addition to starters Joakim Noah (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Luol Deng (15 points, six rebounds, four assists) clicked effectively, as Chicago went on an extended 18-3 run, dating back to Dengs jumper toward the end of the previous period to tie the game at 34 apiece.

However, a stellar first-half performance by Garnett who, along with Noah, was issued a double technical foul, as the pair continued their war of words ensured Chicago wouldnt overtake the Celtics.

Hes active, hes rebounding above the rim, hes going to get rebounds out of his area, hes shooting the ball great, hes elevating on his shot, getting deep post position and hes always had great vision, always been very unselfish, said Thibodeau, going down a laundry list of Garnetts strong suits. When you look at the passing of that team, they share the ball, they move the ball, they execute and they play defense.

Chicagos defensive lapses perhaps partly due to Boozers gradual assimilation into the teams defensive scheme once again permitted Boston to surge, reeling off bucket after bucket to give the Celtics a double-digit winning margin.

The floor generalship of Rondo (12 points, 19 assists, six rebounds) was masterful, as he evenly distributed the basketball to the many weapons at his disposal the slender point guards pinpoint passing was the catalyst for a vintage Garnett stat line often getting the best available shot on each Celtics possession.

Were struggling defensively, said Thibodeau. Playing from behind, dug a big hole and against quality opponents, you cant do that. We fought hard to get back in the second quarter, but then in the third quarter, the same thing. Right back in the hole.

I think our first and third have been a problem for us all season, no matter who was out there. The first quarter, we dig ourselves a hole, the third quarter we dig ourselves a hole and weve been worse in some games, but the majority of games in the NBA, when you get behind to a very good team, youre not going to climb back, added Boozer, who played without the protective brace for his hand that he wore in Wednesdays debut, stating Id rather not wear it afterwards.

Weve got to have a better focus out thereon that circus trip, we got lucky. We were able to fight back in some games, but weve got to do a better job of that as we move forward.

Chicagos lack of offensive flow also plagued the team in the games final period. Instead of quality possessions and solid execution, Bostons defense yielded mostly awkward forces and end-of-shot-clock heaves, demonstrating the Bulls lack of cohesion and inability to push the tempo in transition, not to mention more meager than usual offensive rebounding.

Still, it was mostly Chicagos defensive effort that stuck with the team in the aftermath of its second consecutive ugly defeat.

Terrible. Thats the reason why were losing. Blown coverages, not doing the right thing, but like I said, well get a chance to play tomorrow, Rose told CSNChicago.com. Weve just got to step it up on the defensive side. We didnt stop anybody the last two games. Thats why were getting blown out. Hopefully we can change it.

Explained Thibodeau: Weve got to do a better job of containing the ball. Our weak side has to be a lot more alert. We have to have better body position on the cuts. All facets of our defense. Right now, its hard to judge because we have to do it with greater intensity.

One thing we can do is we can play a lot harder and again, when we make them missand rebounding was a problem alsoand thats preventing us from getting us out into the open floor and getting us some easy baskets, the coach continued.

When youre making them miss and youre rebounding well, then you get Derrick into the open floor, thats where you get your easy baskets. Everything is a grind right now because were playing out of the halfcourt so much.The Bulls couldn't stop Kevin Garnett (20 points, 17 rebounds, six assists Friday night) and realize they are struggling defensively in the last few games. (AP)

Deng concurred: Weve been winning because of our defense, so weve got to get back to that. Try to get easy baskets, try to get stops and get out and run.

We get a lot of looks when we get stops. When we slow down, right now, were not running our stuff the way we should be. I think eventually we will, but where were at right now, were more of a running team that gets stops and runs, he added. I know we play tomorrow, so weve got to make a quick switch and get back to that defensive mentality. Weve got a lot of guys that can score and its going to be spread out, but every night the defense has got to be there.

The home crowds persistent chants of Scalabrine (for the Bulls reserve forward; he would eventually enter the contest with the game out of reach) obscured Chicagos attempt to get back into the contest, as the foregone conclusion that the Celtics would coast to victory was reached the previous quarter.

Fighting hard but making up little ground, the Bulls simply couldnt overcome Rondos top-flight playmaking, Bostons offensive execution All-Star swingman Paul Pierce (18 points) became more of a factor as time wore on and stout team defense, and frankly, their own unforced errors.

Rationalized Thibodeau: The games keep coming. Weve gotten into this together; weve got to get out of it together. Weve got to fight a lot harder. Were capable, well play better, but weve got to put more into it.

Rose summarized things in a similar vein.

Weve got to change a lot of things, so hopefully tomorrow youll see a whole other team, the All-Star told CSNChicago.com.

Hosting a Houston squad likely eager for revenge at the United Center Saturday evening, theyll have to make a quick turnaround.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Jimmy Butler limited, Rajon Rondo out as odds stack against Bulls for Game 6

Jimmy Butler limited, Rajon Rondo out as odds stack against Bulls for Game 6

If the Bulls are going to push the Celtics to a Game 7 with a win tonight at the United Center, it’ll have to be under the most improbable of circumstances.

Jimmy Butler is banged up and finally, the Bulls are admitting it as he has a sore left knee he suffered from a collision in Game 4 that has affected him in Game 5. And point guard Rajon Rondo will not be making a miraculous comeback to lead the troops in some made-for-TV moment.

Butler took just two shots in the fourth quarter in Game 5, clearly favoring his left knee, the knee he jumps off of, limiting an offensive game that relies a lot on explosion and contact.

“Jimmy, he’s gonna battle. One thing you know about Jimmy, he’s as well conditioned as anybody in the game,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s as big a competitor as anybody in the game. He does have soreness, no denying that. He’s gonna continue to go out there and do everything he has.”

After bumping and bruising his way to 23 free-throw attempts in Game 4, Butler took just one free throw in Boston two days ago — the greatest indicator of how this injury is affecting his game.

Hoiberg said Butler didn’t do much in the morning shootaround, and it seems the best method could be using him as a decoy if the Celtics still treat him as a player capable of scoring 30.

“He’s still gonna have the ball in his hands a lot,” Hoiberg said. “Tried to give him the ball with the side cleared, and let him go to work. I thought he drew the defense and got us a couple quality looks, we just didn’t knock it down.”

With Rondo, while he’s improving and has a track record of playing through injuries, it appears his broken right thumb isn’t healing at the rate it needs to for him to be on the floor and contribute without risking further damage.

“Not much. Pretty much the same,” Hoiberg said. “He’s still got a lot of soreness in that right hand, especially with everything he’s got with the torn ligament and also the broken thumb. Not able to do enough at this point.”

So without their best player and their most indispensible, the Bulls are facing an uphill task against a Celtics team that made the Bulls lose a little poise in a critical juncture of Game 5, and will try to push all the buttons again.

And it means more will fall on Dwyane Wade’s experienced shoulders in the meantime, and he believes Butler can be effective even while limited.

“My approach is going to be the same as it was last game — just try to be aggressive. And try to find other opportunities to find a way that Jimmy can still lead,” Wade said. “He’s just a little banged up. It’s fine. It’s the NBA. Jimmy is a tough guy. We have to find different ways to make sure he’s involved.”

For the rest of the roster, Wade believes finding a way to continue their season appears to be a matter of opportunity instead of panic, with the urgency being the best teacher.

“There definitely should be,” Wade said. “This is a big game for our season. It seems like every playoff game, the cliché thing to say is, ‘Oh, this is the biggest game of our season.’ But it rings true tonight. I think it’s a good thing for this young team to be in this situation now just to see how we respond.”

Five Things to Watch: Bulls battle Celtics in Game 6

nba_playoffs_gm_6_vs_celtics_ton.jpg

Five Things to Watch: Bulls battle Celtics in Game 6

Watch as the Bulls take on the Celtics tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:00 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1. The point guard carousel. It's been something to watch all year, and with the Bulls desparately searching for answers it will continue to be one heading into Game 6. Isaiah Canaan actually played well against Isaiah Thomas, and Dwyane Wade looked comfortable initiating the offense. That'll need to continue simply for the Bulls to have a chance, with Rajon Rondo ruled out for the game.

2. What's Jimmy Butler's health status? Jimmy Butler attempted just two free throws in the fourth quarter of Game 5. He only went to the free throw line one time, in the second quarter. This goes without saying, but the Bulls' only chance to win Games 6 and 7 is for Butler to be playing like his old self. With his back against the wall, maybe we'll see that "Jimmy Game" where he wins it by himself.

3. Is Isaiah Thomas heating up? The smallest player on the court is starting to heat up in the series. While his shooting hasn't been great, he was super in Game 3, took over in Game 4 and made plenty of plays in Game 5 that led to a win. It wouldn't be surprising at all to see him continue this, as his eyes seem to light up every trip down the floor with Rondo on the sideline.

4. Who's the next surprise contributor? Bobby Portis, Paul Zipser, Isaiah Canaan and now Anthony Morrow have all made surprising contributions in the series. At this point that's what it's going to take to compete against a deep Celtics team that's healthy and rolling with some momentum. Could it be Cris Felicio playing big? Perhaps Portis gets hot again from deep? Either way, it's got to be someone helping Butler and Wade.

5. The Bulls' backs are against the wall. It's simple. Win or go home. How will the Bulls respond in this type of situation, with Boston holding all the momentum and looking to end this before it goes back to Boston for a do-or-die Game 7. The Bulls don't have a lot of pressure on them from a national standpoint, but you can bet their expectations for themselves are large. How they respond early will say a lot about the job Fred Hoiberg did getting them ready.

- Buy tickets to tonight's game

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you’re ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Bulls: All of the most recent news and notes