Celtics-Bulls review: Bulls bring the intensity

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Celtics-Bulls review: Bulls bring the intensity

CHICAGO The Boston Celtics were not playing one of their better games against Chicago on Tuesday night and there they were, down by just three points following a lay-up by Rajon Rondo with 3:40 to play in the third quarter.

"I told our coaches that this game was about to go one way or the other," recalled Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

He was right.

Chicago reeled off nine straight points to take a commanding double-digit lead and never looked back in handing Boston a third straight defeat, 100-89.

As much as Chicago's third quarter spurt was about execution, it was fueled primarily by the Bulls bringing better, more consistent effort to the floor.

"Their intensity was harder throughout the game," Rivers said.

Even sadder was that the Bulls were coming off a game at Memphis Monday night while the Celtics had been prepping for Tuesday's game in Chicago since Sunday.

There was no denying that the Bulls, from the opening tip to the final horn, were the aggressor.

And it left the Celtics a defeated bunch that's trying to make sense out of a season that's still young, but clearly slipping further and further away from the kind of season they were expecting.

Getting beat is bad enough.

But getting beat because the other team played harder than you - which is the reason behind the bulk of Boston's losses this year - only adds insult to injury.

"That's the one thing I feel we can control night-in and night-out," said Paul Pierce. "We may not shoot the ball, we may not execute the offense but to say we get outworked night-in and night-out ... I'm embarrassed to even say it. But that's just the facts."

Chicago's effort was indeed a major factor in the game's outcome. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game, and how they ultimately played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Celtics took just eight free throw attempts in their loss to San Antonio, so you can expect them to attack the rim more often as well as get the ball to Kevin Garnett early in the post. The eight free throw attempts were the fewest for the C's since they took five in a home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers last February.

WHAT WE SAW: The C's spent more time on the line, connecting on 14-of-19 attempts. But at no point did the Celtics establish this as a something they could go to with any consistency which is unlike the Bulls who were led by Luol Deng's 21 points that included 11-for-12 shooting from the line.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs Carlos Boozer. Bass is due for a breakout game after shooting just 2-for-8 in his last two games. That wouldn't be that big a stretch against Boozer who is not exactly known as a defensive stalwart.

WHAT WE SAW: Brandon Bass' shooting touch continues to be off, but he did provide eight rebounds which for a rebounding-challenged team like Boston, is a big deal. As for Boozer, he benefited heavily from the Celtics defensive problems. He had 21 points which included 12 in the first half.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo has rolled sevens - as in turnovers - in each of Boston's last two games. His name is all over the C's record books already, but he'll clearly be looking to avoid becoming adding another historical footnote with what would be a third straight game with seven or more turnovers - something no Celtic in franchise history has ever accomplished.

WHAT WE SAW: His turnovers were down to just three on Tuesday, so that's a start. But his ability to dominate the game, much like the Celtics, came in spurts. He finished with a game-high 26 points and eight assists but there was never really a point in the game where it seemed his strong play was going to swing the game's momentum in the C's favor.

STAT TO TRACK: Boston is looking to avoid giving up 100 points or more for the fourth straight game, which shouldn't be too difficult to do against a Chicago team playing without their starting backcourt of Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton. Regardless of the opponent, the Celtics have not had much success when opponents meet or exceed the 100-point plateau with a less-than-stellar record in such games of 3-7.

WHAT WE SAW: The Bulls are not a high-scoring team, so to give up 100 points to them like the Celtics did on Tuesday looks a lot worst than when the C's did it against Houston and San Antonio who are among the NBA's highest scoring teams.

Dominique Wilkins reflects on his rivalry with Larry Bird

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Dominique Wilkins reflects on his rivalry with Larry Bird

During our series discussing the 1986 Boston Celtics, we have sat down with many players from that championship, along with members of the media that were close to the team.

This week features a few of the opponents that were very familiar with the 1980’s Celtics  - Atlanta Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins, former Celtics coach (and Hawk) Doc Rivers, and Lakers great James Worthy.

Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

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Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

BOSTON -- Early in 2016 praises were sung around the league that Xander Bogaerts was the best hitter in baseball.

Rightfully so. For a good portion of the season he led the league in both batting average and hits. But between Mookie Betts’ ascension and Bogaerts’ drop in average from .331 on 7/29 to .306 after Monday night’s game, he’s taken a back seat.

But the Red Sox shortstop’s month-long dry spell hasn’t been a straight decline. Although he was held hitless Monday, Bogaerts went 6-for-13 (.462) against Kansas City.

In fact, the 23-year-old doesn’t even consider the recent month of struggles the worst stretch of his career.

“2014 probably,” Bogaerts said, “yeah I had a terrible, terrible few months -- probably three months.”

That was of course the season a lot came into question surrounding the now All-Star shortstop, so he was pretty spot on. In 2014 Bogaerts went from hitting .304 through 5/31, to .248 by the end of June, .244 after his last game in July, all the way down to .224 by the last day of August.

Bogaerts would hit .313 that September and finish with a .240 average -- but more importantly, an appreciation of what he’d experienced.

“That definitely helped me become a better person, a better player -- and understanding from that and learning,” Bogaerts said.

From that experience, he gained a better understanding of the importance of maintaining a consistent day-to-day routine.

“That has to stay the same,” Bogaerts said without question in his voice. “The league adjusted, they adjusted to me. It kind of took a longer time to adjust to them. They’ve just been pitching me so differently compared to other years.”

Bogaerts has had the point reinforced to him throughout, with Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez serving as one voice of reinforcement.

“When you have a routine from the mental side, physical side, when you struggle that’s when you really need that,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been so good with his daily preparation, it doesn’t matter the result of the game. He can always go to something that feels comfortable.”

“He’s been so comfortable and confident with his daily routine and preparation that it allows him -- when he doesn’t get the results he wants in the game -- to have some peace knowing that the next day, we’re going to go back to doing that again.”

It’s clear Bogaerts needs to maintain his daily routine to help work through slumps -- and maintain hot streaks -- but Rodriguez made it clear, consistent preparation from a hitter doesn’t magically cure every problem.

“That doesn’t mean that because you stick with the routine you’re going to have results,” Rodriguez said. “What it means is, [because] you know and believe in that routine that you know you’re going to get out of it.”

Which means in addition to sticking to his normal routine, Bogaerts also had to identify flaws elsewhere in order work through his problems. He came to realize the problem was more mechanically based than mental -- given he’d done everything to address that.

“They pitched me differently, and some stuff I wanted to do with the ball I couldn’t do,” Bogaerts said. “I just continued doing it until I had to make the adjustment back.”

Bogaerts isn’t fully out of the dark, but he’s taken steps in the right direction of late -- and is nowhere near the skid he experienced in 2014. He and Rodriguez fully believe the All-Star’s ability to maintain a clear mind will carry him through whatever troubles he’s presented with the rest of the way.

“The more stuff you have in you’re head is probably not going to help your chances,” Bogaerts explained, “so have a clear mind -- but also have the trust in your swing that you’re going to put a good swing on [the pitch] regardless of whatever the count is.”

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter @ngfriar.