Well, then. A jarringly easy 97-81 win that, even as the Celtics grabbed a fleeting 3rd quarter lead, never even really felt contested. The Kendrick Perkins trade is looking more and more like the new Exhibit A of how balance and rotations in the NBA are a delicate house of cards.
I know the Celtics have done the “coast down the stretch and save it for the playoffs” thing before, but this felt different. This team got abused inside – the Bulls actually doubled them up in points in the paint, and with a not-100% Joakim Noah. There are serious issues with the bigs that don’t involve intangibles like “going full speed” or “wanting it.” I like Jeff Green as a player and everything, but he can probably tell you how Carlos Boozer’s elbows taste this morning. As for Big Baby – I’ve seen players that are uncomfortable receiving the ball at literally every spot on the floor (including the block), I just haven’t seen them in the NBA before.
The admittedly never-bashful Doc Rivers did the equivalent of spitting in his team’s face (bold mine):
“I thought they were far more physical, tougher, more prepared, which is on me,” said Rivers. “I thought Thibs did a better job. I thought Boozer did a better job, I thought Derrick Rose did a better job. Heck, I enjoyed watching them play. I thought everything they did was better. Their offense was better than our defense. Their defense was better than our offense. Every loose ball they got to, every tough play. I thought we reacted all night. We were never the instigator.
“It’s no coincidence the Bulls have the best record,” said Rivers. “They earned it. With heart, with the way they play. I told the guys that before the game. You don’t play this amount of games and have the record they have and think it’s something different. They earned it. I thought every single one of those guys was focused and played hard. I thought we played in spurts. We were front running. We’d make a little run coming out after halftime and I see the guys jumping around and puffing their chests out and they make a run and we hung our heads. I thought they were tougher in every way.
“I can’t imagine the amount of point blank layups we missed, but I thought that was due to them,” said Rivers. “We missed layups because we thought we were going to get hit, because of their physicality. We have to play with a better sense of urgency. We don’t have this turn on/turn off thing (like last season) with this group. I don’t think it works.”
The old Celtics coasting routine rarely involved people beating their ass physically. These guys are too proud for that – they would’ve put a stop to it, they just couldn’t, because Jermaine O’Neal (!) is their center. Can this team get to the Conference Finals? I still think so, but that’s more due to Miami being even more ninny-ish in the paint and LeBron still refusing to regularly play in the post. As a Bulls fan, I’d love to see them get there.