The Boston Celtics are surging upward. By contrast, the Chicago Bulls are in free-fall, having lost 6 of 10, choking to death on poor motivation, star ego, terrible offense, a misfit coach and (sadly, for me) the slow angry death of Rajon Rondo’s NBA career. So no worries, right? WRONG. Despite staying in front for 60 percent of the game, uneven execution and a completely horseshit ending took this one away from the Celtics. They’re still in good position, but this one drove me nuts.
THE GAME FLOW
With Dwyane Wade sitting out and Jimmy Butler playing at half-effort, the Bulls had little offensive juice to start and not much D either. Boston’s bigs led the way, with Amir Johnson turning Isaiah Thomas passes into easy buckets and Al Horford’s shot looking crisp. Chicago, for all their rebounding acumen, don’t defend pass-heavy offenses well, but they stayed in it through the 1st quarter due to strong work by Robin Lopez.
Boston’s reserves were logy to start in Q2, but Olynyk, Zeller, Rozier and Young snapped to life soon enough. Much-loved wing prospect Bobby Portis kept Chicago alive, scoring 13 by the time the 2nd frame was half-over…and so did Rondo, with some of the best playmaking and rebounding he’s shown in quite some time. I.T. had a fairly slow first half, but so did his star counterpart Butler. While the score was close with half the game in the books–at 58-52–Boston didn’t look worried.
The trip to the locker room seemed to remind Chicago that, like, winning is the object in pro basketball, with Jerian Grant, Taj Gibson and Butler putting in solid work. On Boston’s side, ball control and shooting both fell off considerably and their lead evaporated. (Jae Crowder looked particularly off–couldn’t shoot well at all and made several slapdash moves on defense.) Bulls’ rebounding started doing the damage I expected it to do all game, and while the Celtics never fell far behind I knew immediately that Brad Stevens wished he could forget this 3rd quarter.
Thankfully, Boston began to regain its own urgency as the final quarter began, although not enough to keep Portis and Lopez from their continuing good play. Boston stayed in it through a combination of Olynyk buckets and, oh, you know, a certain Little Guy who made a new franchise record. After I.T. made a jumper and a 3 to retake the lead, it stayed wire-to-wire going forward.
With a minute left, the Bulls had multiple chances to dagger the game with a jumper, but Butler and Grant kept missing. And then, on what should’ve been an easy OREB for Chicago, Smart wrestled away a loose-ish ball from Taj Gibson in the most fuck-you manner possible, tossing it to Young just in time to maintain possession. It got hairy as shit in the final seconds…and then the refs decided to give a below-.500 team a mulligan and call foul on Smart for barely brushing Butler’s elbow with his fingertips–JB, an excellent FT shooter, made his shots. Stevens did his best to plan an ATO for an open Horford 3, but it was the longest of long shots and didn’t fall, bringing the Cs down 104-103 and sending them into the All-Star break 37-20, still safely in the 2-seed.
That fucking foul call. Late, and weaker than weak. Look at this shit:
I’m not Tommy H, much as I love him. I accept when the players on my favorite team screw up. But that was absolutely nothing and it turned the fucking game. Absurd.
All things being equal this might not be considered an earth-shaking play, but it shows off Amir’s good game tonight, facilitated in part by Isaiah’s passing:
Y’know what? Y’KNOW THE HELL WHAT? I’m gonna post an Isaiah moment that expresses my true feelings. He was outstanding tonight, and broke Havilcek’s record to go 41 consecutive games of 20+ points, but fuuuuuuuck.
Isaiah Thomas: 29 points, but earned on meh 44 percent shooting and 9 made FTAs, plus 3 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 turnovers and a plus/minus of -9. YEAH, MOORE, I INCLUDED HIS PLUS/MINUS.
Kelly Olynyk: As the Rainin Js discussed on the latest Locked On Celtics pod, it’s possible that Assertive Kelly O gets dealt or walks this July, but games like last night and tonight give ample evidence of his impact–17 points on 60 percent shooting, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and a +5.
Jimmy Butler: 29 points on shooting barely better than Isaiah’s–but also 4 boards, 7 dimes, a block and only one turnover. Come be a Celtic, Jimmy. GarPax and fucking Fred will never love you like we will.