Four observations: Bulls falter early, stage rally, but fall to Celtics

Rob Schaefer

No existential crises tonight, but it's another tough loss against a winning team for the Bulls. Observations from the Celtics' 113-101 victory:

Tough first half Pt. 1: The Offense

The Bulls' resurgent performance in Detroit was only on Saturday, but early in this one, it felt further away than that.

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It was more than shots not falling. The first quarter, especially, was flush with miscommunication, both in transition and on set pieces in the halfcourt. As a result, most of the shots the Bulls did get off were either tightly contested or heaved after possessions dominated by aimless movement.

Two nuggets that sum it up: 

  • The Bulls missed their first seven 3-point attempts of the game; then, after Thad Young canned the team's first long-range make early in the second quarter, they missed their next six. They finished the night 6-for-25 from deep.

  • The Bulls registered their lowest point totals of the season through one quarter (14) and two quarters (37), shooting 5-for-19 from the field in the first and only 34.2% by the break.

"We talk often about winning the first quarter and how important that is in our league," Jim Boylen said. "We lost the first quarter tonight by 14 and the difference in the game was 12."

Tough first half Pt. 2: The Defense

On the other end, familiar issues (since Wendell Carter Jr. went down) preventing penetration and defending the paint reared their head, as well. 

Enes Kanter - who started in place of a late-scratched Daniel Theis - had nine points and four rebounds (4-for-4 shooting) in the first quarter alone and finished the night with 15 points and nine boards (7-for-9). As a team, the Celtics outscored the Bulls 32-20 in the paint and outrebounded them 25-16 in the first two quarters.

In honor of his third NBA start, Daniel Gafford picked up three fouls in the first half (the last of which was a tough call), giving way for Luke Kornet to log 13 minutes. Kornet was -18 in those minutes and the Bulls' blitzing scheme showed some cracks with him on the floor. 

The Celtics shot 52.5% from the field and led 55-37 at the break, the Bulls' second-largest end-of-first-half deficit of the season.

Third quarter flip

A familiar issue that didn't arise tonight was the Bulls' third-quarter struggles; they galloped out of the gates to a 17-5 run in the first four minutes of the second half. The defense tightened up, transition chances flowed and in a stretch reminiscent of the beginning of the Jan. 4 matchup's fourth quarter, the Celtics were completely without answers.

Zach LaVine and Thad Young reigned, combining for 21 points on 7-for-10 shooting in the period. As a team, the Bulls shot 65% from the field (3-for-8 from deep), outscored the Celtics 6-0 on the fastbreak and worked to level the points in the paint disparity with a 20-8 advantage.

 

The Bulls won the quarter 34-28, but the Celtics did correct course and led 83-71 entering the fourth. They pulled away from there, but the fight in the third was admirable, albeit not enough.

"At halftime, we were disappointed in how we played, and I thought we picked it up in the second half, I thought we came out and competed," Boylen said. "We didn't win the game, but we won the third quarter and we won the second half, so we'll try to build off that."

Bright spots

With the loss, the Bulls move to 14-27 on the season and 1-16 against teams at or above .500 (at time of contest). They played hard, but again dug themselves a hole too deep to dig out of.

With that out of the way, here are some good things for those of you who took the time to read this far:

  • Thad Young played a great offensive game. He was 7-for-10 from inside the 3-point line (1-for-4 from three) and finished with 17 points. Try telling him the post-up is dead. 

  • Foul trouble aside, Gafford showed flashes in the 20:24 minutes he was able to log. He finished +8 with 10 points and two blocks on 4-for-5 shooting and gave five great third quarter minutes before picking up his fourth personal. The dropoff from him to Kornet was significant.

  • Zach LaVine got his. Call the numbers hollow if you want, but 30 points on 9-for-18 from the field, 3-for-6 from three and 9-for-9 from the line is a solid result after a low-efficiency stretch from quarter one of Detroit through this game's first half. Also:

  • Denzel Valentine had five quick garbage time points, including a 3-pointer. The Bulls are 17-for-60 from deep in their last two games, and outside of Valentine and Young, the bench had nine points. I respectfully question his apparent relegation from the rotation.

The season is halfway gone. Back home for Washington on Wednesday.

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Four observations: Bulls falter early, stage rally, but fall to Celtics originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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