Celtics-Bulls: What we saw . . .

Celtics-Bulls: What we saw . . .
April 6, 2012, 11:27 am
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CHICAGO The Boston Celtics were up by double digits at the half, and coach Doc Rivers was convinced his team wasn't working hard enough.
And it indeed caught up with the C's. They were no match for the Chicago Bulls' second-half surge, which propelled them to a 93-86 win.
After the game, Rivers said Thursday's loss was the worst one of the season.
"We were the cool Boston Celtics tonight," said a visibly upset Rivers. "That's who we looked like; you could see it. Walking around, walking the ball . . . couldn't get the ball inbounds? It was a joke. We were the cool Celtics. You don't play basketball cool."
Paul Pierce, like the rest of his teammates, was disappointed in the team's second-half struggles.
"We just didn't match their energy level in the second half," said Pierce, who led all Celtics with 22 points. "They came out with more purpose. We didn't show the sense of urgency in this game. I don't know if it was tired legs or mental weakness, but we didn't come out like we should have to put this team away."
Had this been December, January or even early February, that would have not been all that surprising. Back then, the Celtics were a team that teetered around the .500 mark. But they came into Thursday's game playing their best basketball of the season.
For a game like this to happen now is a tough one to swallow.
"This team has shown great resolve, but right now, that's twice now, they get into us, they frustrate us and our guys let go of the rope, bottom line," Rivers said. "We're not going to go a lot of places playing with that kind of mental toughness."
Indeed, the C's showing a lack of mental toughness in the second half was among the factors contributing to the loss. Here we'll examine a few keys identified prior to Thursday's game, and see how they actually played out.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston's rebounding struggles are an issue unto themselves. But they really become problematic when it comes to second-chance points. You look back at Wednesday's 87-86 loss to San Antonio, and arguably the biggest shot of the night was made by Matt Bonner with less than a minute to play, a shot that came about because of San Antonio's ability to get multiple shot opportunities. No team is better at getting second-chance points than the Bulls, who average 15.9 second-chance points per game (tied with Utah for tops in the NBA). And it should come as no surprise that Boston, the league's worst rebounding team, is also among the NBA leaders in second-chance points given up. Boston gives up 14.2 second-chance points per game, the seventh-highest average in the NBA.WHAT WE SAW: Boston literally held its own on the boards in the first half, grabbing just as many boards (20) as the Bulls. Even better, Boston had a slim 7-6 edge in second-chance points which is a rare - extremely rare - occurrence. However, that all changed in the second half with the Bulls taking control of the glass and with it, the game. By the end of the night, the Bulls outrebounded the Celtics, 44-36, and had a slight edge (15-14) in second-chance points.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett vs. Joakim Noah: You thought watching Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan on Wednesday night was a treat? Watching KG and Noah go to battle could be even better. In their last meeting on Feb. 16, Garnett had a strong game with 18 points, 10 rebounds and a blocked shot. Noah was even better, finishing with 15 points, 16 rebounds and most important, the victory.WHAT WE SAW: Garnett (four points, seven rebounds) was losing the head-to-head battle in the first half with Noah (11 points, six rebounds), but there was no mistaking he had the more positive impact on his respective team. The C's were plus-5 with Garnett on the floor in the first half, while the Bulls were minus-9 with Noah over the same period of time. Garnett continued to struggle with his shot in the second half, while Noah did a lot of the dirty work around the boards while the rest of his teammates handled the bulk of the team's scoring.PLAYER TO WATCH: If he plays - and that's a big 'if' right now - all eyes will be on Derrick Rose. The reigning league MVP hasn't played since March 12 against New York. And even though this will be the fourth and final regular-season meeting between these two teams, it's only the second time the C's could potentially see Rose on the floor. He missed the last two matchups with a back injury, and is currently out with a groin injury. However, his status is questionable after he was able to participate fully in Chicago's practice on Wednesday. I really dont know. I felt good, but me playing against Boston, I dont know," Rose told reporters after practice. "Im able to run a little bit more, but not at my top speed. Top speed or not, Rose playing at all will only add to the list of concerns Boston has to worry about.WHAT WE SAW: With Rose out for an 12th straight game due to a groin injury, that meant C.J. Watson - Rose's replacement in the starting lineup - was once again the man being called upon to fill some pretty big shoes. Watson had a solid night, finishing with 15 points and eight assists.
STAT TO TRACK: Keeping the Bulls from running will be among the many challenges Boston will face. The Bulls average 14 fast-break points per game, which ranks 10th in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Celtics defense is only giving up 12.1 fast-break points per game, which ranks seventh in the league.WHAT WE SAW: Chicago did damage in a number of areas, but their fast-break points wasn't one of them. Boston limited the Bulls to just 11 fast-break points, with all but two of those points coming in the second half.