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10 observations: Bulls drop 5th straight in blowout loss to Celtics

10 observations: Bulls drop 5th straight in blowout loss to Celtics originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

DETROIT — It has been a crazy last week or so for the Chicago Blackhawks, to say the least.

The glue through it all has been Nick Foligno, who wears an 'A' on his sweater but has acted as the de-facto 'C' for the Blackhawks. I'm not sure what state this team would be in if he wasn't here.

"He's really one of the best teammates I've ever played with," Philipp Kurashev told NBC Sports Chicago. "He's been huge for our room and our team. He's so vocal, he's always talking and always helping everyone out. It's been some hard situations but he's really helped us get through it because he has so much experience. He's been awesome."

Connor Bedard will likely be Chicago's next captain. It's only a matter of when, not if. And he absolutely should be the next captain because this is now his team.

But right now, there isn't a better leader for the Blackhawks to be following than Foligno, who has helped the team navigate through some muddy waters and distractions of late.

"Anytime there's ups and downs throughout a season, it's very important to have those guys or certain guys that take charge and kind of control the room and they give way," Johnson said. "Nick's done an amazing job of that. Ever since he came in, you could definitely tell he's got a leadership presence to him. I can't say enough good things about him.

"He's done an awesome job coming in and getting to know the guys, and most of all controlling the room through good times and bad."

Said Bedard: "It's big. Not just for the young guys, but for everyone. He's been in the league for a long time and he's been on winning teams and been the captain of good teams. Hearing what he has to say and hearing what he, from his experiences, what he knows to be successful, it's good for us." Obviously for myself only playing 19-20 games in the league so far, to have somebody like that is great."

The Blackhawks have held a players-only meeting twice this season, once after a 4-2 loss to New Jersey on Nov. 5 and another shorter one after a 4-2 loss to St. Louis on Nov. 26. You'll never guess who drove most of the conversation.

"Nick probably talked the most in those meetings," Kurashev said. "It's great. We all listen to him and we all respect him and what he's done. We all just look up to him and try to follow his lead."

Foligno says the right things, strikes the right tone, and leads by example through his actions. He is as passionate as anyone about helping rebuild the Chicago Blackhawks, and he's only worn the sweater for 21 games.

"Maybe just because I talk a lot," Foligno joked when asked how he's essentially become the voice of the team. "You know what, I am who I am. That's one thing everyone probably sees. I'm not going to change. I've seen a lot in my life on and off the ice, so whatever I can help with — in a lot of ways — I'm going to do."

It's a luxury for a head coach to have a leader inside the dressing room like Foligno, who sets an example in every way possible and holds the group to a high standard.

"He's been great from Day 1, and we knew that," Richardson said. "He was great even stepping up after a game like [Tuesday] and saying some really good words to the team after the win, heartfelt and encouraging moving forward too. He's seen a lot over these years and even before that, growing up in that lifestyle with his father playing. He's perfect for the role he's in right now."

Foligno's presence, both on and off the ice, cannot be overstated. He is doing exactly what the Blackhawks brought him in to do, and then some.

In a week full of chaos, Foligno has been the stabilizing force for the Blackhawks.

"I care a lot about the players I play with and the organization I play for," Foligno said. "That's something I've always tried to do, and I'm hoping that has a trickle effect on every guy in here. It matters what we do on a day-in, day-out basis, and if you build good habits that way, on and off the ice, then it usually translates to success in the organization for yourself personally.

"I don't get caught up in it too much. Just try to be who I am and I'm lucky to go to work every day with these guys."

BOSTON --- The Chicago Bulls lost for the fifth straight time and for the eighth time in nine games when the Boston Celtics prevailed 124-97 on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

"This team has had enough conversations," Zach LaVine said. "We gotta get results."

Here are 10 observations from the defeat:

---Zach LaVine endured a forgettable night. He missed his first six shots and didn’t score until 17.7 seconds remained in the first half. The Celtics even won a challenge at the 5 minute, 33 second mark of the second quarter when officials overturned a foul call on Jaylen Brown on a driving LaVine. LaVine did have four assists at halftime but then exited the game for good at the 5:32 mark of the third with right foot soreness. LaVine sat out the Oklahoma City loss that started this trip with the same injury. LaVine finished 1-for-9 for two points. Obviously, the Bulls need him to starting finding his shooting form. He entered shooting 45.3 percent overall and 34.4 percent from 3-point range, both below his career percentages.

"It's sore," LaVine said of his foot. "I felt it a little bit and it progressively got worse. So it didn't make sense to continue to risk it."

LaVine said he's day-to-day moving forward. The Bulls next play Thursday at home against the Milwaukee Bucks.

---The injury news didn't stop there. DeMar DeRozan crashed hard to the ground during the third quarter after getting fouled and winced throughout several possessions afterward. He ultimately checked out at the 6:02 mark of the third and didn't return with a sore left ankle. DeRozan finished with 19 points and six assists.

---Alex Caruso returned after missing one game with a strained left toe. But coach Billy Donovan still started Patrick Williams. The move had several layers to it. For starters, Williams played well in Toronto and Brooklyn and any momentum is good momentum for a player so critical to the franchise’s future. It also allowed Williams to match up with Jayson Tatum initially, placing more size on the Celtics’ 6-foot-8-inch superstar. And it placed Caruso back in a situation where the team can more readily control his minutes. Caruso almost always ends up in closing lineups but only plays one speed.

Donovan said he brought Caruso off the bench because the reserves have struggled some of late and also because he hasn't loved having to keep Caruso on the bench for a 12-minute stint from the 6-minute mark of the first quarter to the 6-minute mark of the second quarter when he starts. That's because the Bulls try to control Caruso's minutes.

"It felt pretty good," Caruso said. "There were just a couple movements that aggravates it a little bit."

---The Celtics needed to beat the Bulls by at least 23 points and get some help to win Group C for the In-Season Tournament. Jrue Holiday and Derrick White both were listed as questionable but started, an indication of how focused the Celtics were on winning. DeMar DeRozan took exception to Pascal Siakam taking a late shot in the Bulls’ loss to the Raptors. But point differential, and perhaps some breaches of sportsmanship, will be the new norm with the In-Season Tournament. In fact, Donovan fielded a question about it pregame. And then Donovan had two in-game discussions with Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla when Mazzulla instructed his players to intentionally foul Andre Drummond in the fourth quarter with the Celtics leading by 30 points.

"Andre is a veteran guy. And I told (Mazzulla): 'What are we doing here?'" Donovan said. "I get it on keeping your guys in, wanting to get in (the quarterfinals). The league has made it a big deal. But for me, it was just the fouling. And Joe was great when I talked to him."

In fact, Mazzulla not only apologized to Donovan during the game and again in a postgame hallway but also asked to be allowed to apologize to Drummond.

"They're trying to get to Vegas. It's just a tough situation. He has to coach his team and do what he feels is right," Donovan said. "Play (the starters) all the way to the end. I got no problem with that. But I just thought it was putting Andre in a tough spot in a 30-point game. I didn't like that.

"This is what the league has done with the point differential. And I feel bad for them from this standpoint: God forbid in a game like that (someone gets hurt). When you're up 30 and there's 5 minutes to go in the game and you have all your main guys in there and potentially someone gets hurt over the In-Season Tournament because of points? Man. But I understand the league has made a big deal of it. Everybody is trying to take it serious."

---The Bulls, by the way, finished 0-4 in tournament play.

"You go out there and play, man," LaVine said, when asked if he thinks this season is salvageable. "You got a lot of season left. You don't play the scoreboard. You look at the standings, obviously. But you try to win every game you step into and that's what we're going to try to do."

---After starting quickly in Brooklyn and leading by 21 points, the Bulls reverted to their first-quarter woes. They trailed by double digits for the fifth time in 19 games and only scored 20 points.

---The Bulls allowed 69 first-half points and 65 percent shooting before halftime. Both represented opponent season-highs. The Bulls entered the game ranked 21st in defensive rating and the issues are widespread. From poor communication to poor rotations to fouling too much, the Bulls are allowing way too many open shots.

"As a professional player, there should be effort out there. And we'll deal with those (film) clips," Donovan said. "There was definitely some of them I saw and those were addressed in timeouts---about the effort we were giving on some of (the closeouts)."

---The Celtics led by as many as 35 points, marking the Bulls' biggest deficit of the season.

Asked how the Bulls can stay connected through this trying time, Caruso grew animated.

"This is our job, man," Caruso said. "You show up and do your job. Whether you wear Bulls or Celtics across your chest, there's a pride that comes with playing in the NBA."

---After allowing a franchise-record 25 3-pointers on Sunday in Brooklyn, the Bulls allowed 21 3-pointers. Several of the Celtics' looks were wide open. The communication and rotations are non-existent for a defense that last season finished in the top-five.

"There are two things that are mandatory in the NBA if you want to win games---effort and execution," Caruso said. "If you miss half that, you're behind the 8-ball and probably not going to put yourself in a good chance to win. It's something that's frustrating. We can only watch it and get back and go at the next one and try to lead by example and lead vocally and pull guys along with you."

---Earlier Tuesday, executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas expressed his disappointment with the team’s start in brief remarks to the beat writers here.

Asked how much ownership he takes for the Bulls’ struggles, Donovan didn’t run from responsibility.

“I take ownership in this too in terms of what I have to do. I’m not obviously the decisions that Arturas is making or Jerry and Michael (Reinsdorf) are making,” Donovan said. “And I’m not making the decisions on the court that the players are making. But where can I get better and improve and where can I help?

“I’m a big believer that you are what your record says you are. I’m not going to sit here say, ‘Well, a couple tough losses and we could be .500.’ No. This is what we are. What are the issues we have to address? As best as I can, I try to hit those head on and talk about those things and show them on film and maybe go about things in different ways.

“I take responsibility of where we’re at too. I look at myself first in terms of things I can do better to help our group. That’s my main focus. Certainly in conversations with players and our staff and Arturas, we’re all trying to put our heads together to try to figure out how we can help one another. And I think players have been great in terms of open communications in talking about things we have to do better.”

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