Very few teams can make these Boston Celtics look so disorganized, so disheveled, so entirely unaware of what they’re attempting to accomplish. With a tip of the cap, I salute former Celtics defensive coordinator Tom Thibodeau, and his troops, who proved willing to follow their peerless leader’s advice all night long. These Bulls receive top-notch education at the dirty end of the court, and tonight they deserve an awful lot of credit for making these Celtics look so abominably disjointed. The Bulls earned their 90-79 win.
But while taking away nothing from Chicago’s beyond-worthy effort, let’s not let these Celtics off the hook. Against a defense like Chicago’s, ball movement and player movement initiate success. Yet the Celtics were uncharacteristically unable to find the open man with any consistency, and also unable to shed the stagnancy that plagued an ugly offensive night. If you want to know why Ray Allen and Paul Pierce seemed curiously uninvolved, the woeful ball movement’s your answer. The Celtics didn’t bring their normal energy. I suspect the cause was a combination of Kevin Garnett’s absence, the natural effect of a back-to-back’s second night, and the simple yet thorough bullying session pieced together by a physical, tough Chicago squad.
From an individual standpoint, I saw little that I enjoyed. Perhaps the most striking realization came from Shaq. Looking across the court at a frontcourt of Kurt Thomas (6’9 and flabby) and Carlos Boozer (not so flabby, but also only 6’9 and pointedly less defensively inclined), Shaq should have smelled mismatches. He should have feasted like Michael Sweetney on Thanksgiving, posting and toasting and roasting in a way that would have brought Walt “Clyde” Frazier immense pride.
Instead, Shaq offered what he’s recently become far too likely to offer — a dud. Five points, four rebounds, and very little impact on the game. If you expected Shaq to successfully exploit mismatches, think again. He’s officially a complementary player, and nothing more. He can thrive when finishing his teammates’ plays, but that’s it. Even against defenders far smaller than he, Shaq no longer possesses the requisite balance or the lift to take advantage of his extra five inches of height. I suppose I should have known that before. I guess I even DID know that. But this was Kurt Thomas we’re talking about! He’s short, and flabby, and he’s got (in the memorable words of Sonny Koufax) old balls! I know Thomas has established a stellar defensive reputation throughout his career, but Shaq (in my dreams) still should have manufactured a big night. Or, at least, better than five points and four rebounds. Alas, my hopes of Shaq exploting mismatches are now permanently shattered. With a 38-year old Shaq, there’s no such thing as a mismatch.
Haters will point to Derrick Rose’s free throw tally and shout conspiracy. Realists will look to his free throw tally and realize, “Damn, Rose was THAT difficult to defend.” For a long time, we’ve heard analysts say Rose needs to draw more fouls. With his cheetah-like package of speed, quickness and power, there’s no reason Rose shouldn’t average as many free throw attempts as anyone else.
Tonight, we might have seen the latest step in Rose’s evolution. He didn’t just draw contact; he invited it. He didn’t just pick up fouls shots; he actively sought them. If the Derrick Rose we saw tonight — the scary, miniaturized freight train intent on accumulating charity shots — becomes the Rose who plays every night, the NBA’s Eastern Conference may soon have another legitimate contender. And please, try diminishing his output by telling me he only notched two assists the entire night. I don’t care. The Bulls need Rose to score, and that’s exactly what he did. Assists be damned, I’ll take 36 points on 19 shots any day of the week. And twice on Sundays.
Back to the Celtics, Kevin Garnett was missed sorely, which was clearly obvious to anyone who saw Carlos Boozer traipse unimpeded to the hoop. And annoying doesn’t even begin to describe getting (almost literally) nothing from the second unit. While Davis fills in for Garnett as a starter, the Celtics’ bench holds a bunch of wild cards. Do you know what Nate Robinson’s going to offer from one night to the next? Absolutely not. Can you rely on Von Wafer to produce every game? Nope. What about Luke Harangody, Jermaine O’Neal, Marquis Daniels or Semih Erden. No, no, no and no. With Davis starting, I wouldn’t call a single Celtic reserve consistent. Or anything close to it.
Davis wasn’t a stud tonight, either, of course. In fact, it’s time to end this post right now. If I keep writing any longer, I fear Davis will somehow find a way to miss yet another jumper.
Well done, Thibs. Well done.