Against the Chicago Bulls, a familiar narrative returned to the forefront: physicality. Despite the Celtics starting the game hot, jumping out to a 9-0 start, and dominating the opening exchanges of the first quarter, the Chicago Bulls stood firm before making some adjustments that would ultimately win them the game.
The primary adjustment from Chicago’s side was to pack the paint and use their length to disrupt the Celtics’ offensive drives. The Bulls’ aren’t just long; they’re a physically imposing roster, boasting numerous high-level athletes and some big bruising bodies to boot.
“They impacted us on our drives. Big time,” Brad Stevens mentioned, as he detailed how the Bulls’ adjustments swung the defensive momentum in Chicago’s favor.
With the Celtics finding early success when driving the lane, Chicago switched to packing the paint and throwing bodies at the Celtics star wings, leading to numerous tightly contested attempts in the restricted area.
“I got to give them credit. They did a great job tonight. Defending, showing help, they made it tough,” Tatum detailed when asked about Chicago’s defensive efforts.
Defensive possessions such as the one in the above clip were commonplace throughout the contest. As Tatum drives the lane, the defense collapses to clog the painted area. Both of Chicago’s wings pinch in, while Lauri Markkanen is positioned in front of the rim, and Patrick Williams is guarding the weak side dunker spot.
“It was a physical game. It was a tough game, I give those guys a lot of credit. Temple, Williams, Theis, Vucevic – they were all physical and made it very difficult for us on our drives and our rim attacks,” Brad Stevens detailed as he explained Boston’s struggled around the rim.
For the Celtics, the physicality of this game shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The team has been involved in some battles of attrition in recent weeks, most notably the win against the New York Knicks earlier this month.
However, with Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Robert Williams, and Evan Fournier missing from the rotation, Brad Stevens was forced into some creative rotations throughout the game, which led to some meaningful minutes for the likes of Aaron Nesmith and Tremont Waters. While those younger players are talented, they’re still wet behind the ears, and likely not accustomed to the physical battle which they encountered throughout this game.
“They’re really physical inside so it makes it tough on us defensively, having to come down and help. But they’re definitely physical inside,” Payton Pritchard explained following the second start of his career.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Boston has succumbed to the physicality of their opponents. Earlier in the season, the Celtics consistently failed to match the physical approach of their counterparts, falling to losses against the likes of the Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards, and New York Knicks - teams known for their smash mouth brand of basketball.
Those losses stung, especially as it became apparent that the Celtics were playing down to their opponent.
Since returning to the team following his battle with COVID, Tristan Thompson has played a pivotal role in helping the team navigate these wrestling matches, as teams consistently look to bull Boston out of the game.
Unfortunately, after a grueling stretch of games, and with a couple of players carrying slight knocks (Both Jaylen Brown and Tristan Thompson could be seen tending to their shoulders throughout the second half) Boston was unable to withstand the barrage of bumps and bruises being thrown their way.
“Their length, their physicality. We tried to draw some fouls in there and to their credit, they just played physical, strong, and solid. They did a really good job,” Stevens said.
The Celtics have a rare two days off before their next game, which should allow them to recover, and hopefully add some more of their roster back to the rotation. Stevens noted that the team would likely get a practice in on Wednesday before facing the Phoneix Suns on Thursday.
Phoenix is another physical team, with former Celtics Jae Crowder in their ranks and behemoths DeAndre Ayton and Dario Saric in their front court. With the Celtics win streak now over and another battle awaiting, the Phoenix game will be a good indicator of how much progress this team has truly made in the last few weeks.