Bulls fall to Celtics

Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 35 points, Wendell Carter Jr. added in a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds
Zach LaVine holds the ball
by Sam Smith

Body

Despite six players scoring in double figures and battling back from a 16-point deficit, the Bulls fell to the Celtics.

This time it was the Bulls charging, back from a 16-point deficit with about 10 minutes left in the game, coming hard and snorting. First it was a 15-2 sprint, Kris Dunn with a driving three-point play, Tomas Satoransky with another, Zach LaVine with a fading long three ball among his game-high 35 points. "I think we're just as good as they are," LaVine would lament later.

With 7:21 left on a Thad Young runout score, the Bulls were within three. But then missing a half dozen chances to take that elusive lead, Satoransky blocked, Daniel Gafford offensive, Young offensive and a missed drive. Then it was Zach to the rescue again, an improbable three, a dunk off yet another Bulls steal, 15 steals and four for LaVine for 24 Bulls points. Back within three points with 3:20 left. "We're competing at a high level against these teams," LaVine added.

BullsTV Recap: Bulls 104, Celtics 111

With the game beginning to vanish in the mist of Boston efficiency, again it was LaVine after a burly Wendell Carter Jr. offensive rebound and three-point play. LaVine zigged and zagged through a maze of Celtics for another layup, the Bulls trailing 105-101 with 90 seconds left.

Time for a big defensive stand. And Dunn looked like he had it against the dazzling Jayson Tatum. Dunn stayed in front and fought off a Daniel Theis screen; Tatum circled right. Dunn was there, perhaps the distance of a wrist band between them. Tatum hit the breaks and stepped back. Dunn was his shadow. "Trying to make it tough on him," Dunn said. Tatum put the ball down again, dribbled between his legs once, twice. Dunn remained in his defensive crouch. He wouldn't got for the fake. The shot clock was down to three seconds. Tatum moved farther right in front of his bench. Dunn stuck. Tatum nudged Dunn with his left hand, giving himself perhaps six inches of space, but nearly stepping on the end line and out of bounds. Dunn sprung back like the two were attached by an elastic band, Dunn's hand within an inch or two of Tatum's face as Tatum brought the ball up high, flicked his wrist and released the ball with a second to go. The shot clock buzzer went off with the ball still above the backboard.

And then it settled in giving the Celtics a seven-point lead with a minute left. Game, set, match that!

It's upsetting because I expect us to win. We're just not finishing the game off and that's what's separating us from those top tier teams... We're going to keep fighting and get it right, but it's upsetting when you think you can win.

Zach LaVine

Teammates on the Celtics bench didn't much leap in celebration. They appeared too stunned, wry smiles and head shakes all around. Dunn mumbled something that seemed toward Tatum. It wasn't.

"I said something to myself, like ‘What the f***.' I mean, you make that shot you've got it rolling and he had it rolling," said Dunn. "He was so far out he was almost out of bounds and he knocked it down. That's the kind of league that we're in."

A league the Bulls still are attempting to enter, a league where they just can't quite seem to figure out the password. And so Saturday in the United Center it was more anguish, a 111-104 Celtics victory.

Kris Dunn hustles for the ball against the Celtics

Again, the Bulls did a lot of great things, LaVine with remarkable shooting, five threes and 14 free throw attempts, Carter with another double/double with 11 points and 14 rebounds, six players in double figures as coach Jim Boylen further reduced the rotation to just eight players. Lauri Markkanen left with four minutes to go with 15 points and a sprained ankle. There was no update on the severity.

The Bulls attempted more free throws, made five more threes, led in assists, forced 20 turnovers and mostly dominated the fourth quarter. But again they were outscored badly in the third quarter and just unable to make that extra play as Tatum had 28 points and Gordon Hayward 24.

"The Celtics, even when they're down or a team makes a run they know how to withstand it and that's what they did," Dunn noticed. "Adversity hit; you can see it in their face. They were poised, they weren't worried. They believe in their system and kept executing and that's what we have to take from the game. To be able to understand down eight with six minutes left, everything is OK. Just run our stuff, keep executing, guarding and things will go in our favor."

It just has to, right?

Inside the Locker Room with Kris Dunn

The Bulls dropped to the 10 games below danger zone at 13-23. The Celtics playing the second of a back to back without leading scorer Kemba Walker moved to 25-8. Is there that much difference in talent? The Celtics started Theis at center and points deprived Marcus Smart at point guard. Brad Wanamaker, Javonte Green and Grant Williams were supporters off the bench. Along with Enes Kanter, who dominated the smaller Bulls centers with 17 points and 12 rebounds in a crucial late third quarter stretch of repeated post up scores that gave Boston a 12-point lead after three.

"They play to their guys' strengths," said LaVine. "They have three, four guys who play isolation ball and can shoot mid-range and mid-post. They take advantage of that and I feel they took advantage of us on the block tonight and we have to either help or something. I don't feel like we made that adjustment and that's something we have to do if not as a coaching staff, the players on the court. Wendell is a great defensive player, but you get in foul trouble a dude is going to go at you. Eventually we have to bring some help. I think that's our fault."

Boylen said he preferred to defend the three than overcommit to interior double teams since the Celtics are one of the league's best three-point shooting teams. And the Celtics did shoot 42 percent on threes. Though it seemed more the Celtics' veteran poise, which is why you want to get into the playoffs to learn those things, that prevailed. They might have made a bunch of threes off the double team, anyway.

Zach LaVine looks to the side against the Celtics

What they really did best was accept the cliche. They took what the defense gave them.

With a less experienced team like the Bulls, they'll try to stick to the plan. The plan is to force the opponent into those supposedly low value two-point shots. The Bulls have been much improved that way, hustling and running opponents off the exterior line. So the Celtics scoring threats like Hayward, Tatum and Jaylen Brown simply stepped inside and made two-point shots. Though they count a third less than a three, there also can be something of a psychological advantage that cannot be calculated. Players gain rhythm and confidence seeing shots go in. Threes add up at a lower percentage. So perhaps you begin to accept misses more? Someone check the advanced stats.

The Celtics beat the Bulls with two-point shots and inside scores, outscoring the Bulls 60-38 in the paint with Kanter's post play and with Hayward and Tatum combining to make 17 short jumpers and layups.

"We all know the numbers, it's been well discussed," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "But there's also certain times in games with certain guys in this league that you just go (inside). We don't have a ton of postings in our arsenal, either. But we have a couple in case we want to go to that."

The Celtics, even when they're down or a team makes a run they know how to withstand it and that's what they did... They were poised, they weren't worried. They believe in their system and kept executing and that's what we have to take from the game.

Kris Dunn

Another of the common cliches is that it is a game of adjustments.

The Bulls probably competed harder with those 15 steals, five blocks and 20 forced turnovers.

The Celtics made some more plays.

"We've got to squeeze two more possessions out in these games," rued Boylen.

And now it's back on the road for the Bulls for four of their next five starting Monday in Dallas.

"I was going to be aggressive; we needed it," said LaVine, who scored 13 points in the first quarter as the Bulls were quickly ahead 21-11. "We had a third quarter collapse again. We fought back and it wasn't enough. We keep stringing these (close) games together. It's upsetting because I expect us to win. We're just not finishing the game off and that's what's separating us from those top tier teams. We're not closing out games with wins. We're going to keep fighting and get it right, but it's upsetting when you think you can win."

Zach LaVine dribbles against the Celtics

It was an excellent game with fierce play, fabulous shot making and a frenzied finish. Good entertainment, if an unsatisfying result for the home team.

"With this league, it takes time," said Dunn, who had 13 points, seven assists and three steals. "Some teams pick up on things faster. For us, I feel like we are growing, we are making improvements. But we're just not getting over the hump. That's the frustration part. All the good games against the good teams, we're right there."

Boston led 30-28 after one and then 55-52 at halftime. Boylen sat Denzel Valentine and Ryan Arcidiacono. Though Chandler Hutchison played for Windy City Friday on rehab, he wasn't active. It was the first time Young played small forward, though the Bulls matchups often change because Dunn usually guards the best scorer. Markkanen again sat a long stretch into the fourth quarter when the Bulls were making their run. But then just 40 seconds upon his return Smart fell on his left ankle. He was helped off the court, walking unsteadily and couldn't return.

Watch Lauri Markkanen's third-quarter dunk

Again, the third quarter proved the dilemma, a nine-point Bulls deficit after double digit deficits the previous two games in the third. The Bulls have been outscored in the third quarter in 12 of the last 16 games. Opponent adjustments? Opponents playing harder? Too many milkshakes at halftime? Nah, I think they still have oranges.

"We have to have the awareness to understand that we have been poor in the third quarter and we've got to have more urgency," said Dunn.

So it looked over when the Celtics got the lead to 93-77 with 9:45 left.

The Bulls shot 55 percent in the fourth, made six steals for eight Boston turnovers, got 10 more shots and double Boston's fast break points. Outscored Boston by five. It wasn't quite enough yet again.

"It's not one of those things where it's just like, ‘Ugh, what's going on?' It's more of a, ‘Ugh, we're a good team. We expect more from ourselves,'" said Dunn. "We're right there. What can we do to fix it?' That's the frustration. I'm still down with this group of guys. We've got a great group of guys, talented, work hard, good character. We've just got to find that hump of what we can fix and make that improvement and we'll get more wins."

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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