Thursday, February 16, 2012

Celtics at Bulls: Memories

Not long ago, the Celtics and Bulls were taking part in one of the most entertainingly epic first round series in NBA playoff history. Memories of seven total overtime periods, a breakout 36 point game from Derrick Rose, a 51 point outburst from Ray Allen, two Rajon Rondo triple-doubles, and a chippy atmosphere that saw Rondo put Kirk Hinrich into a scorer's table by the arm still pervade this match-up two seasons later.

Much has changed, though. At that point, the Celtics were defending a title against an upstart Bulls team. Now, the Celtics are 3 seasons removed from their championship and the Bulls find themselves at the top of the East standings once again. In fact, the Bulls have the best record in the league along with a +9.8 point differential and a 10-1 home record. 

Chicago's success is once again coming from their elite defense. They are 2nd in defensive efficiency and are forcing their opponents off the three point line to less efficient shots. The Bulls' opponents take the league's lowest percentage of shots from three and the highest from 16-23 feet. Similarly to last year, Chicago is led by their 2nd unit, with the Asik-Gibson-Deng-Korver-Lucas lineup giving up a miniscule 0.62 points per possession. 

Boston's defense remains in the upper echelon, but they have had trouble on offense. While they have the league's highest assist rate (thanks to the phenomenal Rondo), they still turn the ball over a lot and grab offensive rebounds at the league's second lowest rate. The Celtics continue to knockdown their threes (59.2 eFG% from 3), but are relying more on their point guard for offense as Rondo's usage rate is the highest of his career. 

The season series going into last night's game was split, one apiece, with Chicago's loss coming without Derrick Rose. Rose would have to sit out last night's game as well, but it didn't seem to affect the ball movement on offense for the Bulls. Chicago has 27 assists on 30 made field goals with much of the passing coming from the bigs. Luol Deng had 10 assists with Boozer adding 5 more. Boston tried throwing up a zone to stop the seeming passing drill that the Bulls were putting on in the lane, but to no avail. While it befuddled Chicago offense for a few possessions, it would not be enough to stop the Rose-less Bulls, who scored 89 points on 88 possessions. 

Boston's offense had a rough shooting performance and was unable to move the ball as effectively as the Bulls, with only 15 of their 31 field goals coming from an assist. They, characteristically, were unable to come up with second shots, grabbing just 6 offensive boards as compared to 16 for Chicago. 

Energy seemed to make all the difference, personified best by the play of Omer Asik. Within the first 2 minutes of his entry into the game, Asik had 3 offensive boards and drew an offensive foul on Kevin Garnett.  His minutes were limited due to the outstanding play of Noah and Boozer, but he got the most out of the playing time he saw. 

There weren't any overtimes or triple-doubles this time around. Nobody got thrown into a table. The stakes were a little lower for the third of four meetings taking place in the middle of February. However, something tells me that we haven't seen the last dramatic game between these two teams just yet.

In the meantime, we can remember the greatness that once was. 

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