Let me start you off with a few relevant stats. Coming into this game, the Chicago Bulls’ opponents were averaging just 88 points per game, fourth in the NBA. Pace adjusted, the Bulls were second in the NBA in points per 100 possessions, at 96.1.
Now read that headline again: the Celtics just hung 101 points on a team that hadn’t allowed over 100 points all season.
A few disclaimers: Obviously, this isn’t last year’s Bulls team. Nate Robinson, he of the supremely inefficient shooting and the piss-poor defense, got significant minutes thanks to an injury to Kirk Hinrich, who is by far a superior player to the aggravating Robinson. And of course, the Bulls will be without Derek Rose until February at the earliest.
But injuries and all, this Bulls team is likely a playoff contender purely based on their incredible defensive acumen, a fact which terrified me before the game. After somewhat of a foot-finding win, I reasoned, it would be such a Celtics thing to do to come out flat against Chicago and lose by 20 (Twitter followers will note that I said 40 but I was, of course, exaggerating), killing any momentum we may have carried over from the Milwaukee game.
I didn’t have to worry. Rondo put the team on his shoulders, something he does pretty frequently against the Bulls, and the Celtics hung on through a big 4th quarter surge to beat the Bulls.
Some bullet points:
- The most encouraging thing about this game wasn’t Rondo’s dominance, although that was certainly fun. No, the most encouraging thing was the way the offense carried the day. But for a costly 4th quarter drought, the Celtics answered every single push made by the Bulls with a variety of different players. You may recall that the Bulls were threatening to bring the game under five in the second quarter, but a series of explosions to the basket and layups from Leandro Barbosa kept them at bay. Barbosa finished the game with just those six points, but the Celtics got big contributions from other role players as well, from Jason Terry (13 points, a big run-ending shot), Chris Wilcox (several big rebounds and one huge momentum-killing and-one opportunity), and Jeff Green (7 points and five rebounds in 15 minutes).
- The Celtics offense was fantastic despite a terrible 3-point shooting night, shooting just 3-16 for 18.8%. Two of those threes were vital in maintaining the momentum and the lead however, one from Jeff Green and one from Jared Sullinger.
- Brandon Bass gets his own bullet point for being a monster offensively. Bass was 5-6 from the floor and 6-6 from the line, finishing with 16 points. Plus his final basket was the game-ending slam that gave Rondo his 10th assist, keeping the double-digit assist streak alive.
- Speaking of Rondo, he was needed in a big way and he came through. His line, 20 points, 10 assists, 9 boards (so close…), doesn’t really do him justice. He sliced up Chicago’s defense with a barrage of tricky layups and mid-range jumpshots, shooting 10-16 for the game. What’s more, he carried the load for KG and Pierce, both of whom had off nights. Chicago’s only big run happened in the 4th quarter with Rondo sitting on the bench. When he returned, Boston didn’t REGAIN the big lead, per se, but they definitely stabilized the ship and were able to sail the rest of the way to a victory.
- I’m a little bit disturbed by how easily Joakim Noah beat Kevin Garnett, especially in the 4th quarter. KG looked a step slow on several plays in the row, making my hyperactive worry gene kick in at full strength, assuming the worst: that KG was injured. Luckily, with 41 seconds left, Rondo went ahead and assuaged my fears by lobbing Garnett an alley-oop which Garnett dunked home in a daggerish sort of way, putting away the Bulls for the evening. Still. I wasn’t a big fan of Garnett’s individual defense in the paint.
- Some negative nancys (a phrase bandied my way tonight, perhaps with good reason) will say that we should be concerned about the Celtics near-collapse in the 4th, but I tend to disagree. The NBA is full of talented players and teams, so it’s extremely hard to keep a talented team down for a long period of time. Besides, the Celtics ALWAYS allow a run. The question is whether they are able to beat it back, and they usually are. Tonight was no exception. Put it this way: I’m much more encouraged by the emerging offense than I am DIScouraged by the close final score.
Since positive things are way more fun to write about than negative things, I’m sure you will hear plenty about this game since the Celtics don’t play again until Wednesday. But until then, enjoy the win, and dream sweet dreams of what this team could accomplish if last year’s defense catches up with tonight’s offense.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.