The Celtics overcame a scrappy Chicago team 111-104 Saturday night, with the Bulls providing a much sterner test than anticipated due to their defensive intensity. For much of the game, the Celtics were stifled on the offensive end, struggling for answers on how to break down the well organized scheme they were facing.
There was no single player who dominated during this game. Instead, multiple players got hot at different points. This allowed Boston to alter their game-plan as the game wore on, changing the point of emphasis to probe the holes the defense was giving them.
In the first quarter, it was Gordon Hayward who stepped up, he was taking what ever the defense would give him. There was an incredibly difficult finish on a drive which drew him an and-1, a three-point shot when he was posted on the weak side corner, a fast break bucket and obviously he did some work from the mid-range.
When he gets into the key and uses that nice little step back, it always feels like the shot will be cash. He is almost automatic from that range, but it would be nice to see him attack more moving forwards. He did what he had to in this first quarter though, leading the team with 10 points, 2 rebounds, and an assist. Unfortunately he did turn the ball over 3 times during the 1st as he and the team struggled to adapt to the intensity in which Chicago went about protecting their rim.
Jayson Tatum (8 points) and Jaylen Brown (6 points) also got some work done in the first, with Tatum hitting all three of his shots and draining both of his attempts at the line. His first bucket came at the expense of Kris Dunn, with Tatum posting him up down-low, turning him ,and getting the easy finish at the rim. He seems more confident attacking the paint from a post-up than in transition at the moment, but that development in his game is sure to come sooner rather than later.
The second quarter was more balanced for the Celtics offense with no single player leading the way, instead there were eight players getting points on the board with the highest total being 6 by Jaylen Brown. That took Brown to 12 points for the half, though along with both Tatum and Hayward, which is great from a Celtics perspective, with their three primary scorers all getting it done early in spite of some tough and physical defense.
Halftime: Celtics 55, Bulls 52— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) January 5, 2020
☘️ Brown: 12 PTS, 4 REB
☘️ Hayward: 12 PTS, 3 REB
☘️ Tatum: 12 PTS, 2 STL
LaVine: 17 PTS pic.twitter.com/GzjzTjfkvk
The third quarter was Enes Kanter’s time to shine, putting up 9 points and 6 rebounds in 6:29 of game play. Boston had found their next hot hand and Kanter was happy to oblige as he banged and bruised his way to the rim on play after play.
Kanter went to the post throughout this quarter, to the point it was almost unfair. Bang after bang, spin after spin, the Bulls just had no answer for his post moves. It was an 80’s play call in the modern basketball era. Defenses don’t often have to deal with such relentless physicality on the low block.
When the ball wasn’t being fed to Kanter, Hayward on Tatum continued to cause headaches, too, both ending the quarter with 7 points and both hitting a three and dropping two inside of the arc.
As they entered the fourth quarter, the Bulls were still hanging around. It was anybody’s game, but up stepped Jayson Tatum, contributing 9 points on 4-of-4 shooting and grabbing another 2 rebounds along the way, with his clutch three-pointer towards the end of the game going viral.
Jayson with some utter nonsense to cap a horrific possession. He has zero interest in losing this game pic.twitter.com/Rmycl5iuyl— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) January 5, 2020
When he plays like this, he is a surefire All-Star, but this back-to-back has provided detractors and fans alike with fuel for their fire. Against the Hawks, he was inefficient and lacked that killer instinct, but the very next night, he attacked the game on all three levels and found great success. Both teams played him hard and tried to ruffle his feathers and he needs to learn to look past that as he did versus the Bulls.
A look back at this game shows the Celtics went with their usual inside-out scheme, predicated on punishing defenses down low to create easier chances from deep as the game wore on. It worked.
Allowing 60 points in the paint will demoralize the best of teams as frustration sets in which leads to bad decisions and poor rotations. It wasn’t always pretty but it got the job done. Multiple players ended the games in double figures and each of them left their imprint at one point or another through the quarters.
For all the talk about needing roster upgrades, this performance should not be one used to make your argument. It wasn’t great, but it displayed the strength in depth available to Stevens. They just need to continue showing this on a nightly basis.