Celtics' Offense Sputters Against Bulls

The Boston Celtics had put forth a week of superlative offensive performances, only to see that trend take a nosedive once their run-in with the Chicago Bulls commenced last night. 

Here are some offensive numbers from the Celtics' previous four games:

Sunday at Toronto: 38-70 (54.2 percent), 30 assists, 93 points

Monday vs. Minnesota: 37-82 (45.1 percent), 22 assists, 96 points, 

Wednesday vs. San Antonio: 46-75 (61.3 percent), 34 assists, 105 points, 

Friday vs. Toronto: 46-80 (57.5 percent), 31 assists, 122 points

And then there was this against the Bulls last night:

28-74 (37.8 percent), 12 assists, 79 points

Yikes. What exactly caused such a drastic drop-off in offensive output? 

Realistically, it was a multitude of factors that contributed to the poor offensive showing. 

For one thing, the pace of the game was slow (89 possessions compared to a league average of 94.9 possessions) - in fact, it was the slowest the Celtics had played since their 83-81 loss to the New Orleans Hornets on New Year's Day (88 possessions in that game). 

In addition, the Bulls aren't exactly a bunch of slouches on the defensive end, and we shouldn't expect such with Tom Thibodeau as head coach. Currently, Chicago's ranked first in the NBA in defensive efficiency (97.2 points allowed per 100 possessions), slightly ahead of the Celtics (97.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). The Bulls earned a number of timely defensive stops, particularly in the fourth quarter, as the Celtics were attempting to mount a comeback. With the Celtics looking to make it a four-point game with roughly eight minutes to play, Taj Gibson rejected a Glen Davis jump shot, before coming right back, on the same possession, and swatting an attempt from Von Wafer as well. A minute later, after Glen Davis scored and the C's secured a defensive stop (still looking to get within four), Gibson was back at it, blocking an attempt from Rajon Rondo inside the paint and denying the Celtics' attempt to help bridge the gap. 

The Hoopdata box score shows the Celtics took nearly as many shots at the rim (23) as they did from mid-range (24), but given how infrequently they were making perimeter jump shots (particularly Glen Davis, who hit only 2 of 10 shots from 16-23 feet), I'm surprised they didn't feel the need to attack the rim more often (sort of goes against the whole "If at first you don't succeed..." mantra). Paul Pierce, who scored 20 of his 21 points in the first three quarters finally stuck his head down and bulled (no pun intended) his way to the rim with 2:11 left to play in the game and I remember thinking: "Where has this been?" It came on the heels of a timeout, and it wouldn't shock me if Doc Rivers, or someone else, finally told Pierce enough is enough and he just needed to get to the hoop. Unfortunately, the Celtics' new determination to get to the cup was initiated too late in the game, as the Bulls were already nursing a nine-point advantage (85-76) when Pierce made his move. 

The bench, unfortunately, wasn't much help last night, either. 10 point was all the likes of Nate Robinson, Jermaine O'Neal, Marquis Daniels, Luke Harangody, and Von Wafer could put together. The lack of assists (zero from the bench) was glaring as well. The Celtics thrive on ball movement and getting each other involved, and, well, that didn't really happen last night. Early on it did, as Ray Allen canned a pair of three points off of feeds from Rondo and Pierce. Pierce also fed Shaquille O'Neal inside for the club's first bucket, and Shaq followed that up with a pass of his own to a cutting Glen Davis later in the frame. The Celtics scored seven buckets and assisted on five of them in the first quarter. The Celtics would compile only seven assists on 21 baskets the rest of the way. 

Doc Rivers didn't want to blame the poor offensive effort on the Celtics' schedule (it was the team's fifth game in seven nights), but I'm not ready to rule that out entirely. While we most likely can't point directly at that as the sole cause of the team's struggles, it probably played some sort of role in what transpired. 

Overall, I wouldn't say there's any cause for concern over the Celtics' lack of offensive purity last night. It was a difficult game to stomach, for sure, but given the way Boston performed in its four previous games (all victories), last night's game seemed like something of an outlier more than anything else. Hopefully they can right the ship on Monday against the Rockets and make us all forget last night's bout in Chicago ever happened.

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