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.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.