2003-04 season game 8: Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls, Wednesday, Nov 12, 2003  7:00pm
The Celtics Beagle, hard at work on his next review.
Well, home came the Heroes, celebrating last night's win over the Indiana Pacers.  After last night, things looked a whole lot easier.  The C's were at home, playing against a Chicago Bulls team that was more likely to charge each other then the other team.  Fans could relax with the dulcet tones of Tommy Heinsohn, moderated by Mike Gorman.  Vin Baker was eligible to wear spandex and move to Metropolis.

But for some reason I simply do NOT understand, the Good Guys get run over by the Bulls.  Last year, the Bulls had exactly three road wins--one of which was over the Celtics, on their home opener.

So I was understandably a bit nervous.  After all, it was the second night of back to back away/home games--and may whoever set up the C's schedule be made to spend a few days on standby at Logan Airport on a winter's night when the heat goes out.  The C's were likely to be tired, and possibly looking a bit ahead to Friday.  After all, they might have thought, it's Chicago, not Los Angeles.  Too true.  But this season had proven to be remarkably like last season in one annoying respect--Boston would go out and win games they weren't expected to be competitive in, then lose the ones that should have been marked in the "W" column as soon as they got the schedule.

So there were a few questions to be answered.  Would the C's have learned from their last two come-from-behind games and come out running hard?  Would they mount the kind of defense that would destroy the Bulls' near total lack of offensive punch?  And, would they do this consistently for the entire game?

Well, no, they wouldn't.  This was a game much like their other losses, where the C's, despite not playing as well as they SHOULD play and CAN play, had opportunities to win.  We'll get to the details, but it's going to be aggravating.  We'll start with the game-long problems that will probably come up several times here. 

The Celtics Did Not Run:  NO fast break points.  No beating the other team downcourt before their defense could set up.  No zip in their white sneaks. 

The Celtics Did Not Score:  yes, the stat line will show too many threes attempted and missed, but the fact was, that nearly every type of shot didn't go in for the C's tonight--dunks, jams, jumpers, free throws--you name it, someone missed it.  The caveat to this is that Paul Pierce did his level best to create offense by passing the ball.  Of course, it helps if the recipient of the pass makes the shot.  Sometimes.  Or even once in a quarter.  So I'm not going to get on Pierce too much for his shooting because so far as I could tell, just about everyone was having trouble getting the ball through the hoop.

The Celtics Did Not Defend:  Yes, some of the shots were lucky.  We all have days when improbable shots go in.  But there's no way the Bulls should have shot as well as they did.  The caveat here is that to a small extent, the Bulls were playing with eight guys instead of five, as the Refs were curiously one-sided in their calls at times.

Ok, having given you adequate warning of what lies ahead, here we GO....


First Quarter:

Jim O'Brien played musical centers once again, as the starters were Vin Baker and Kedrick Brown at Guard, Mike James and Paul Pierce at Forward, and Tony Battie at Center.  Brandon Hunter and Kendrick Perkins both remain in the Injured List, but the C's had everyone else available to play tonight.

Bulls Coach Bill Cartwright picked the following names at random: Donyell Marshall and Jalen Rose at Forward, Kendall Gill and Kirk Henrich at Guard, and Eddy Curry at Center.  Tyson Chandler was out for Chicago with a bruised back, with Marcus Fizer and Roger Mason Jr.on the Injured List.

Tommy spoke disparagingly of the Bulls internal squabbles, as he thought it was detrimental to the team's supposed goal of winning games.  Battie won the jump ball and got it to Baker, who dished off to Pierce.  Paul sent it back to James at the top of the key, and with 21 seconds left on the shot clock--and Kedrick Brown wide open--James launched a three.  It bounced out, into the hands of the Bulls.

Eventually, it's going to dawn on James that the reason the other teams let him shoot those is because they're low percentage shots.  Why not try faking a three and using his speed to beat his defender for a better shot, or pass to Kedrick who could use HIS speed to break toward the hoop?

Kedrick showed this ability on the C's next possession.  The C's were moving the ball up reasonably quickly--that is to say, they weren't casually strolling upcourt--but they weren't running and certainly weren't beating the Bulls defense back.

Speaking of defense, at first the C's defense looked pretty good, forcing the Bulls into a shot clock three that missed everything and triggered a 24-second violation.  But the C's weren't intercepting the Chicago passes, just trying to keep them from driving to the hoop.  There wasn't that tight defense that the C's had occasionally used to tremendous effect.

Pierce fed Battie, but Tony's shot didn't go.  Next time up, Pierce was able to easily shoot over his defender.  Jalen Rose came back with a hook shot of his own.  I was figuring that maybe the C's shooting slump was continuing from the last game and maybe the C's would just concentrate on defense, as James fed Baker and Vin's hook didn't go in.

By the next offensive trip, the Bulls were playing an out and out zone defense, which always gives the C's fits.  Kedrick broke through for a basket, but I think the recent admission by Orlando Magic player Tracy McGrady that he had trouble with the zone kind of opened the floodgates.  Every team without a legitimate scoring threat went to the zone specifically to frustrate teams like Orlando--and Boston.

To beat it, you either need to pass the ball out, or run up before the defense has a chance to set.  Otherwise, you're stuck in a halfcourt game, which the C's simply don't do very well for extended stretches.  The C's had the speed to blow past the Bulls.  Vin Baker generally has good short passing skills and can facilitate something if he doesn't have a clean look.--in fact, there are times when I think Vin plays better Point Guard than the PG's do.

James knocked down another three, which wasn't as good as one might think, as it is a deceptive escape from the zone.  If you knock down a lot of shots, great.  If not, then it's a disaster.  Gorman mentioned that Vin Baker was "fidgeting" with his diet to drop a little more weight.  Tommy was concerned that Vin might drop TOO much.  At that moment, Vin was moving better than Pierce expected.  Baker had broken the doubleteam from behind and was wide open in the lane for a pass from Pierce near the top of the key.  But Pierce had fired up an alley-oop pass toward the hoop based on where Vin had been.  Would have been a nice alley-oop, but Baker had made a nice move to reach the lane wide open.  It would have been a dangerous pass, unless you were sure Baker would get clear, but I think at this point, we can count on Vin to be there.  Part of the learning curve for Pierce's passing.

The C's defense was clearly willing to give up the outside jumper, gambling on percentages to fall in the C's favor.  The problem is, several teams had been beating the odds--especially since this particular defensive scheme gave the opponent time to line up his shot.  I personally think the C's need to occasionally challenge those shots, and keep them honest.

Tony Battie made a back door pass to James, who dropped off to Vin under the hoop.  Vin was fouled and made one of two.  I could live with those if we went to the line consistently and made the free throws.  Somehow, Curry was able to come down with the ball under the hoop, gather himself, and dunk the ball--all while four Celtic players stood around him as if they could stop him using the Force, or something.

Baker got it back with a jump hook at the other end that eventually rattled in, and Battie was there for the cleanup if needed.  But the Bulls were lining people up at the arc, and Kendall Gill made the three this time.  Timeout was called with 5:24 left and the Bulls ahead, 16-14.

Waltah! made his appearance on court for the first time in a few games, as Pierce hit a three.  I don't know if the C's weren't able to run, or weren't willing to run--but they didn't run.  Raef's shot was stuffed by Marshall.  Blount snagged the ball at the other end, and tried an outlet pass to Waltah!  but he was running upcourt and never saw the pass that bounced off his behind.  But Marshall's three missed and James took off upcourt.  He held the ball as the rest of the team came up, and Pierce got a reasonably good look that didn't drop.  Blount got the rebound, but was stripped as Rose knocked it down at the other end.

Pierce took a shot in the face going up for the shot, and went to the line for two, making both, thank goodness.  But Kendall Gill took another deep shot that went in.  Banks tried to take it to the hoop, but Crawford rejected it.  Raef made a nice jumper off a Jiri Welsch pass.  Raef tried again the next trip up, but it didn't fall.  Blount and Waltah! crashed the boards, but the Bulls came away with the rebound.

The C's made a good attack on offense to try to tie the game up, but time and again, good shots got stuffed or didn't fall.  Jiri finally tried a shot clock three that just missed.  The C's played for the final shot of the quarter, but Bank's shot missed too.  The first quarter ended with Chicago leading it, 23-21.

This was a very frustrating quarter, as even in a halfcourt game--which this C's team doesn't play very well, let's face it--they were only two points down.  What frustrated me was that we know the C's could have blown the Bulls apart by running.  What was even more frustrating was that for the halfcourt game, Boston was taking decent shots--they just weren't falling.  I know the stats will show a lot of threes--and a lot of misses of all sorts, as their 38% first quarter shooting shows.  But the vast majority were decent looks, given the type of game that was played.  What also bothered me was the 45% shooting by the Bulls.  There was no previous indication they could shoot nearly that well this season.  Also less than thrilling was seeing the Good Guys outrebounded 14-8 by a team that most people thought weren't sure where the basket was.


Second Quarter:

Eric Williams came in, which gave me hope, as he'd previously been the one to jump-start the C's running game.  Waltah! took a three that didn't fall.  It was the proper shot at that time and place.  Not that I'm thrilled about anything more than the occasional three, but in this halfcourt, the three was literally their best option unless they started running.

Eric did make the C's offense look for something better than a three on the next play and Blount responded with a line drive from the corner.  Marcus tried an honest to God run, but got totalled by Crawford at midcourt.  With 8:54 left in the half, time was called as the Bulls continued to lead, 27-24.

Kedrick scored on a nice upfake off a Pierce pass.  The C's had a chance for a lead off that spinning jumper of Baker's but it wasn't going in, either.  He recovered his own rebound and dived to the floor to snag the ball, calling a timeout before a jump ball could occur.

After the timeout, a rather embarrassing situation happened, where Pierce was stripped of the ball as he was trying to dribble past the arc, and he dived after the ball as it rolled toward halfcourt.  He couldn't grab it, but punched it away from Pippen, who was on the floor with him.  Kedrick Brown, followed closely by his defender, tried to catch the ball as it scooted over the halfcourt line, but his man slapped at the ball from between Kedrick's legs.  Mike James came running up, joined by two Bulls players, and attempted to scoop the ball up at the other free throw line, but someone jabbed the ball out of reach.  The cameraman under the basket managed to stop the pumpkin as it bounced past the baseline and out of bounds.  Possession went to the Bulls.  Fortunately, Kendall Gill's shot missed.

Mike James nailed a three, but Pippen came right back with a three of his own.  Then, in a bit of irony, James came inside the arc and was short with the two.  Eric Williams made a tough two, and shot a look at the refs, wondering how severe the injury would have to be before anything was called. As were we all.

Blount and Baker had point-blank shots that wouldn't drop.  That was one of the toughest parts about watching this game, seeing shots that people can normally be counted on to make consistently simply going everywhere but through the hoop.

Tommy was very upset about a player getting hit, but all I could see from my angle was someone with both hands in Eric Williams' back as he went up with the ball.  I presume Tommy, even at his most enthusiastic, knows the difference between a hit and a push, so I guess he saw something not visible to me.

James knocked down another three.  At this time, I couldn't fault him taking the shot--nothing else was going in, and at least his threes looked good.  The C's defense was trying to run Chicago down the shot clock and Blount tore down a rebound.  But the main problem was the C's couldn't score consistently.

Well, one of the main problems, anyway.

Raef did hit another jumper, but every time the C's could close the gap, the Bulls hit another shot to extend the lead.  With 2 minutes left, Chicago had a 42-41 lead after a Blount jumper.  Then at the other end, Blount flipped the ball back over his head as he went out of bounds.  Eric Williams was the recipient of the unusual pass as Blount descended from the table he'd nearly toppled at the baseline.  The best shot the C's could get was a Pierce attempt at a three that didn't go.  Chicago missed at the other end, and the C's had--for the third consecutive possession--a chance for the lead.  Pierce was doubled under the hoop and found Mike James, who launched another three. 

Celtics 44, Chicago 42, with 1:16 left in the half.  Take solace where you can, right?

Jalen Rose came right back with a three from the corner.

Shortly afterward, Rose and Raef clonked heads on a play, which sent Rose to the line.  Raef had taken a run and a flying leap at Rose, who was driving toward the hoop.  Both men were shaken, but okay.  Battie came in for Raef, as it was his third foul.  Rose went to the line for two, making both.

Pierce eschewed the outside shot and went to the hoop, only to be called for the offensive foul.  Neither team accomplished much more in the remaining seconds, and halftime came with the Bulls leading, 47-44.


HALFTIME:

Despite not sticking to their game plan, they were only three points down to a mediocre team.  All the Good Guys had to do was get their collective act together.  The defense was there--but needed to be tighter against a team in such disarray as the Bulls.

The C's were shooting badly, but the long-distance jumpers were a last resort measure since the moves to the hoop weren't falling, and the zone defense was still bothering the C's.  I kept yelling at the TV--yes, I do that too--"Just run toward the hoop before their defense can get back!"  If they'd only do that a few times, the shots would start falling and the C's would be on their way to a double digit decimation of the Bulls.

Third Quarter:

The Celtics opened up the quarter using fullcourt pressure on the Bulls, but to little avail.  The Bulls passed the ball well, and only just missed the shot.  But once more, the C's were not bothering the Bulls passing at all.

Chicago responded with a zone that tripled Pierce.  Paul found Kedrick in the corner, but that shot missed.  Vin was fouled on the rebound, making 1-2.  The C's got a rebound at the other end, and walked the ball up, to my utter annoyance.  Pierce was left open for a three--a calculated risk, but with the way the C's were shooting tonight?  Another miss.  Vin slapped the rebound back, but it went past James and out of bounds.

The third quarter was "more of the same", as the Bulls hit tough shots whilst Vin Baker missed an easy stuff.  And Vin was one of the leading scorers for the C's tonight.

James would soon hit a three to bring the C's within 4 points, at 55-51.  Then the C's ran the Bulls down to a shot clock heave that--of course--went in.  The Bulls were now hitting 7-13--over 50%--from the three point line.  That's the kind of thing with will drive defenses right up a wall.

Mike James took a charge to prevent a Chicago layup.  Raef made it work with a deep two.  Eric Williams went to the line on a smart play, but missed both.  Waah!  The C's mounted a furious attack on the offensive boards, especially Blount and Raef, and Mark went to the line, showing us how to make your free throws, as both went smoothly in.

Pierce made a nice pass in to Eric, who once more drew the foul en route to the hoop.  Eric's free throw shooting improved, as he made both.  Yay!  But the C's were fighting for every point.  There were no easy baskets to speak of.  The C's nearly had a break, but Banks had to heave up a three before the defense was set, because no one else ran up with him--except the four Bulls players who beat him back.

Eric was more effective scoring, as a drew a foul once more--this time on a made basket, to bring Boston within one.  His free throw, however, rattled out.  Chicago was fouled on the next play, and Pippen made one of two at the line.  The C's gave Eric a good look for the last shot of the quarter but to no avail.  The third quarter came to an end as after 12 minutes, the C's had cut one point of the Bulls halftime lead.  Chicago was still ahead, 65-63.

To this point, Chicago had outshot Boston, 43%-33%; and outdone the C's at the arc, going 7-13 vs. Boston's 6-21.  One of the few bright spots was that the Bulls also had a 14-8 edge in turnovers.  It would have helped if the C's had been able to actually score points off those turnovers.  Funny thing about the threes is that the C's were shooting between 30-40% from the arc--normally pretty respectable for any team.  But not when they were an overall 33% from anywhere on the court.

Fourth Quarter:

The quarter opened largely as the previous one had ended.  The C's got zip against the zone, and Pippen hit a three at the other end.  Give Eric Williams credit, he was doing his best to work the ball inside once the C's made it to the offensive end of the court.  But his free throws once more went astray, as he missed both.  Eric was so annoyed at himself for missing the free throws, that his man--Pippen--scooted uncontested to the other end for two more.  Jim O'Brien called timeout with 11:01 left in the game and the Bulls lead now grown to 70-63.

When time came back in, Vin faked a drive to the hoop and hit an open jumper.  We needed more of that, badly.  Pippen then drew a foul off Blount, belatedly remembering to collapse to the floor afterward.  Scottie's got an acting career ahead of him--if they ever revive "the A-Team".  The Pipster then went to the line and missed his first free throw.  Maybe if he tried method acting and became Reggie Miller.  His second rattled in, though.

The C's offense got even colder, and the Bulls kept pushing the ball and making shots.  Eric got called for a ridiculous offensive foul--ridiculous because his man was running alongside him every step of the way, and not giving him enough room to move, then fell down in front of Eric.  Scottie Pippen strikes again!

Off that nonsensical call, the Bulls added insult to incompetence by walking the ball up and letting Crawford nail another three to give the Bulls an 11 point lead.  The C's defense just wasn't getting it done.

Then James took off on a fast break--and blew the shot.  Baker's rebound attempt also missed.  Sometimes, the Good Guys "should'a stood in bed", as the old saying went.  But Baker and Pierce tried to start the Celtic offensive, with Vin making a goaltended shot and Pierce hitting on a three.  That cut the lead in half, as a timeout was called with 7:40 left and the Bulls lead now reduced to 76-70.

After time went back in, Pierce was called for travelling.  He did take a small hop--but while it did meet the letter of the law regarding a travelling violation, that hop is rarely called.  To top it off, just the night before, Pierce had managed to traverse the width of the lane without steps being called.  Some things balance out overall--but this call was a bit of a cheapie, considering some of the things Pippen was getting away with--like literally whacking Pierce on the arm on his way by, as he did on the next play.

Scottie also seems to be under the impression that the rules allow him to yank Blount's arm back as he goes up for the shot.  The refs couldn't ignore that, as Blount spun backward in midair.  The pull yanked his free throw off aim, too, as he missed the first.   The second looked much better.  Referring to  Pippen, Tommy--in  an uncharacteristic bit of understatement--said "They look at these things different now than in years past."

Then Pippen drew a phantom foul on Baker as he missed a three.  There was no sign that Baker even came in contact with Pippen, much less did anything to physically alter the shot.  Pippen went up for three at the line, making two out of the three.  Sure helps when you have eight guys on the court to the other team's five.

The C's did make a good defensive stand, forcing the Bulls into a turnover, and Kedrick finally scored a Celtic basket off a turnover, rebounding and drawing the foul--but missing the free throw.  AAUGH!

Pierce then went to the line and made both, bringing the C's within 3 with 4:36 left.  But the Bulls got it right back a few moments later.  James knocked in a line drive three from the top of the arc, and timeout was called with 4:03 left and the score now 80-78, alas, still favoring Chicago.

When time came back in, another--rather obvious--non call happened, as Blount was about to snag a loose ball and was shoved out of bounds--the camera clearly showed the hand pushing Blount in the back, hard enough to knock him into the second row, as the ball fell out of his hands and into the hands of the Bulls.  That's the kind of idiocy that can get people hurt--not just on the court, but for whomever gets smooshed in the seats.  But there was no call.  Nothing.  Pierce got slashed down on the play as well, but the refs charitably gave the ball back to the Bulls as it went out of bounds. 

Justice prevailed as Blount came back in and tipped the pass to Eric Williams.  James took it up and found Pierce. Sadly, the shot didn't go.  Maybe the swipe on the arm by his defender--a mirror image of the move that Vin got called for--had something to do with it.  But the whistles remained silent--though the refs called plenty of fouls on Pierce and Baker at the other end.  Time was called with 2:45 left and the Bulls still up, 82-78.

The refs made a goof after the timeout--as the Bulls were supposed to be shooting free throws, and instead were given the ball for the side in.  They reset the clocks and set up the free throws, which Jalen Rose made.  Eric Williams drove to the hoop and got it back.  The C's were within 4 with 2 minutes left, and Tommy yelled, "Give it to Pierce--he'll find the open people!"  Whereupon Pierce received the ball, and fired up a shot that ended up going over the backboard.  Rats.

But the Bulls turned it over and gave the C's another chance.  Pierce was given a much cleaner look near the free throw line, but that missed too, and while Baker fought for the rebound, the ball went over to the Bulls.  Marshall went to the line, going 1-2.  Eric Williams then threw the ball away.  Curry drew the foul on Baker, sending him to the bench with 6 fouls.  With 42.4 seconds left, Curry was at the line, missing the first badly, and missing the second even more badly.  But Eric Williams was called going for the rebound, leaving Marshall at the line, making both.  Time was called as the score was now 87-80.

When time came back in, another foul was called--where were all those whistles on OUR end?  The Bulls went back to the line.  Jalen Rose made both.  Raef missed a close skyhook, and WOW, the Celtics went to the line!!  Raef made both.  Chicago dribbled out the clock and won the game, 89-82.

Give the Bulls credit--they played the game they wanted to play, and didn't deviate from their plan.  Boston didn't do any of the basic things they needed--like running and scoring.

I could have understood if the C's had run in the first half and got tired.  But they didn't run at all.  We got beat by a mediocre team.  God help us if the C's play like this against a good team.

Cookies and Crumbs

Cookies go to:

Mike James:  He shot better than anyone on the C's tonight, 18 points,  going 6-14 overall and 6-11 from the arc.  Also 2 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal.

Vin Baker:  Went 12 points on 4-11 shooting, 8 rebounds, an assist and a steal.

Paul Pierce:  Given how many C's went zip for everything, 4-15 isn't quite as bad.  4-4 at the line, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, and a steal.

Eric Williams:  13 points on 4-10 shooting, 3 rebounds and a steal. 


Crumbs left for:

The Celtics' overall shooting percentage.

The Celtics free throw shooting.

The Celtics running game.

Marcus Banks: got nothing done out there tonight.

Mike James: crumbs for his lack of running.  He and Marcus should be making the C's run.  They didn't.

The refs: bleah.

The Celtics better start playing a LOT faster on the court and making their shots before they get blown out by a decent team.  Next time, if they don't run, there's no cookies no matter how much they score.

Next up, the Cleveland Cavaliers, featuring the first NBA player who only shaves once a week.

And that's the view from the doghouse.