Bulls Come Out Flat vs Celtics, Fall 105-89
Valentine Leads Bulls in Scoring with tied Career-High 20 Points
It sure looked like an NBA game Monday in the United Center. People were throwing laundry at other people. There was an Asian lady riding a unicycle catching salad bowls on her head. People were screaming hysterically at a video bagel.
But sadly for the Bulls it appeared more like a basketball blooper reel in their 105-89 loss to the Boston Celtics.
“It’s really disappointing the way we came out,” said Bulls coach Fed Hoiberg about a 19-0 first quarter Boston run that gave the Celtics a 35-16 lead after one quarter. The closest the Bulls would get after that was within 18 points briefly in the second quarter until a final effort against guys named Nader, Ojeleye and Theis.
“Things got tough and we just shut down and we quit playing,” admitted Hoiberg. “Our offense was brutal, absolutely brutal. We got stagnant, we quit moving, and again, when things got tough and they got into us, we just kind of gave in and said, ‘OK, this is too hard for us tonight.’ As opposed to getting tough and getting them off you and making plays and getting into the paint. Very disappointing.”
Like when David Nwaba airballed a free throw, though only about two feet short of the basket.
Like when Denzel Valentine on a three-on-two break trailing by 21 threw a behind the back pass to Cristiano Felicio, who eyed it like it was a sea gull diving for food.
Like when Cameron Payne on a three-on-one break threw it to Nwaba, who was the only Bulls player being defended on that play. Nwaba was fouled, however, and made one free throw to cut the deficit to 18 late in the first.
Like when Daniel Theis, whoever that was, became trapped in the lane between three Bulls defenders, in a manner of speaking, anyway. Theis, averaging five points this season, spun among the three who had him surrounded and ended up dunking the ball: 47-22 Celtics with 3:02 left in the first half.
Or when Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen jumped together for a Marcus Smart missed three with 6.4 seconds left in the third quarter. They defected the ball to Marcus Morris standing 20 feet from the basket. He made the three at the third quarter buzzer for an 86-53 Boston lead.
Dunn walked into the stands like he was leaving, a pained look of exasperation, frustration and helplessness spread across face. He stopped, stared into the faces and then slowly walked back to the Bulls bench.
“Terrible all around,” said Zach LaVine, who was one of 11 for four points with one assist and zero rebounds in 27 minutes. “There’s no excuse for what we did out there. It’s on all of us. It starts with me and goes down the line; this was terrible.
“We’ve got to be better, we have to be able to fight,” said LaVine. “We’ll pick it up next game, have a hard practice tomorrow and this won’t happen again.”
The Bulls were led by Valentine with 20 points to equal a career high while also making four of six threes. Markkanen had 12 points and Nwaba and Payne 10 each.
The Bulls dropped to 21-42 while the Celtics raised their record to 45-20 as they chase Toronto for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
“They have a lot of hungry guys ready to prove themselves and keep proving themselves throughout this year and the rest of this year, especially with Kyrie out,” said Valentine. “The rest of those guys you could tell they were ready to play; we have to take that as a challenge.”
Yes, the Celtics were without their best player, Kyrie Irving, who had a knee problem. Probably.
This kind of game was something of an aberration for this Bulls team that isn’t a playoff contender. But since its 3-20 start, it has been a team that compete regularly and with resilience.
“We didn’t really fight as much tonight like how we fight back and take a lead and make it a game,” said Bobby Portis, who started for Cristiano Felicio and had seven points on two of eight shooting and six rebounds. “We get down almost every game. We always fight back and make it a great game; sometimes win the game, take control of the game. It wasn’t our night tonight.”
Such games happen to all teams, and since November they have been rare for the Bulls.
But one concern was the way their three players of the future, LaVine, Markkanen and Dunn, all seemed to shrink the time. And not exactly against the ’86 Celtics. Boston starts two young players, rookie Jayson Tatum and second year player Jaylen Brown, the latter who led with 21 points. OK, Al Horford is an All-Star, but never much of a scorer and supposedly the last player picked in that new format this season. The other two starters were Aron Baynes, a journeyman big man with a career average of about five points per game, and Shane Larkin, a 5-10 journeyman guard who’s played in the G-league and Spain. The Bulls lineup, at least on paper, seemed certainly comparable.
Yet, Boston’s five blitzed the Bulls and overwhelmed them to start, pushed them around, outran and out hustled them, the Bulls settling for loose, long jump shots and admiring the Celtics moving the ball around like Bulls players were at a tennis match. The Bulls have been adjusting their rotations, presumably, not only to analyze reserve players but to support their young three who are the principals for the future.
But none among LaVine, Dunn and Markkanen made enough of an impact on the game to disturb the Celtics. It’s the kind of game in which one of those players needs to exert himself, take charge, rally his teammates, make a statement, if not immediately about this game, but about the players they intend to become.
Hoiberg said it was Valentine who, at least, attempted to exert influence.
“Denzel came in and I thought gave us a lift,” said Hoiberg. “He was out there competing, he was talking. Other guys, and we’ve talked about this several times this year with the body language, when things get tough, we’re stone faced out there, we quit talking, and we quit competing and doing the little things. Denzel is going to fight through all of that. I thought he was really the bright spot for this team. Again, in the garbage time, I thought our bench, their hands were good and we forced some turnovers. But in those first three quarters is when the game mattered. It was one of those nights where it was too tough and they shut down as opposed to fighting through it. You want to walk in that locker room at the end of the day and say we outworked the other team, and that was embarrassing the way we got outworked tonight.”
About 90 minutes before the game, Hoiberg meets with reporters. He said the emphasis was to get off to a good start, a frequent issue for the Bulls these last few weeks.
And then it was 7-0 Boston and, typically, Markkanen went 10 minutes in the quarter with one shot. The Bulls got within 7-5, the closest they would be when the Celtics then scored 19 consecutive points. The Bulls stood around and took jump shots. The Celtics got 10 fast break points in the quarter, had 10 of their first 14 points on layups or dunks and then added three more dunks to close the first quarter. The Bulls went the first five minutes in the second quarter without a field goal, soon trailing 49-22, and then went six minutes in the middle of the third quarter without a field goal as Boston took a 78-41 lead. Other than Horford, more of a role playing All-Star, there wasn’t single player on the floor for Boston who has been considered elite in the NBA.
At one point in the third quarter, Smart apparently was so rested he boosted himself up from the floor with an acrobatic sort of backflip. Perhaps, he believed the home fans deserved more entertainment than they were getting in the game.
“I just think it was one of those games, kind of come out slow and just couldn’t pick it back up,” said Valentine. “I was surprised. I thought we would come out and play a little bit better than that; some nights you just don’t have it. Our job is to hold each other accountable, hold ourselves accountable, not let that happen again. We have to have more fight; we didn’t have a lot of fight, obviously.”
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