BULLet Points: Celtics outplay Bulls down the stretch despite Butler’s 36

The Bulls have undoubtedly been disappointing this year, no matter what angle you take – I’m excluding any silver lining: giving up big leads (e.g., Monday, a 16-point lead against the Suns); offensive struggles (26th in offensive efficiency); failing to implement a New Age offense consisting of high volume shooting of threes and paint twos; lacking any sort of offensive cohesion or ability to maintain any semblance of momentum.

Tonight was unfortunately no different. The Celtics beat the Bulls 105-100, dropping Chicago to 11-8. They let a close game turn into a ten point deficit midway through the fourth quarter with a series of deflating defensive mental lapses, low energy, and a scoring drought. Here are some BULLets:

  • Jimmy Butler continues to be the lone Bull playing tough basketball, appearing to fight for something anything (honorable mention to Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson). His outstanding performance was overshadowed by a lackluster team effort, as he finished with a career high 36 points on 50% shooting, coupled with seven rebounds, and going 12/14 from the line. Butler has nearly a third of the Bulls’ free throw attempts for the season, which might be just as indicative of Butler’s aggression as it is the rest of the team’s lack thereof, as the Bulls are 25th in the league in free throw attempts per game. This was also Jimmy’s 27th straight game with a steal, tying his career high – the longest such streak since Pippen’s 42 in 1994.
  • Tony Snell continued to struggle, posting a whopping zero points on 0-5 shooting and three turnovers. Despite ranking a very respectable second in the league in three point field goal percentage, Tony seems to think that’s all he’s supposed to do, and looks lost anywhere else. This. So much this:

  • If Snell and Niko were the storm clouds over the game, then Taj and Jo, my honorable mentions of the night, would be the silver lining I said I wasn’t going to talk about. Taj started for Mirotic tonight, alongside Pau, and gave good activity and better post moves with eight points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes. Noah is getting closer to his old energetic self, with five points, six assists, and five rebounds, also in 20 minutes. His -18 is alarming, but watching the game has me thinking this had a lot more to do with floor pairings than his individual effort
  • Doug McDermott continues to shoot lights out, punishing defenders for going underneath screens. On the season, he’s fourth overall in three point field goal percentage, and tonight he shot 3/4 from beyond the arc, with 11 points and a neutral +/-. He’s also got some nifty (albeit, unconventional-looking) moves around the basket, and is becoming less and less awful on defense every game (although the refs are still calling quite a few borderline fouls on him).
  • Things I would like to see…
    • More of: Noah/Niko or Noah/Doug dribble hand-offs as long as opponents inexplicably go under screens – Niko connected twice with this little two-man game
    • Less of: Derrick Rose shooting anything other than a layup (and even then, it’s not great)

  • The Bulls sorely miss the cutting prowess of Mike Dunleavy (out 4-6 more weeks) and should benefit greatly from his return. Hoiberg’s offense relies so heavily on a read-and-react scheme that leans on guys like Dunleavy creating weaving action. As a result, without him, the Bulls fall into old habits of playing isolation ball and allowing the defense to ICE the ball handler (Rose, especially, seems to willingly allow this disadvantage). It was indicated that the Bulls are using some of Thibs’ old plays to help the players become more comfortable by gradually transitioning to the new offense. If the Bulls want to turn things around, they’ll need to buy in to Hoiball – it just hasn’t happened yet.
  • Boston improves to 13-9 with a defense that’s sneaky good. They combine this with excellent bench production – the Celts have the fourth-highest scoring bench in the league and had eight of nine rotation players tonight in double figures. You know things are going right for the Celtics when Evan Turner is doing near-360 degree dunks on fast breaks.
  • Coming up: the Bulls try to take on the Clippers Thursday night on TNT; the Celtics on Friday will attempt to topple the NBA Champion, and still undefeated, Golden State Warriors.

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