It’s been a while since we’ve had to deal with a loss. A 9-game winning streak can make you think the team is invincible. that their shortcomings are for show only, and that no opponent could come close to exploiting them. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and eventually, as confidence rises, those shortcomings become just a goal, and on Monday night, the Chicago Bulls capitalized on that goal.
Like it or not, Chicago appears to be one of the few teams capable of offloading the Celtics. In England, football fans like to call this type of team the ‘ghost team’ – an opponent no matter how bad they play, always finds a way to give you trouble. Chicago is Boston’s ghost team, or at least this current version of the Bulls.
To Billy Donovan’s credit too, he knew exactly what he wanted his team to do, how he wanted them to do it, and executed his game plan, in what could be seen as a token show of support for a coach who has come under scrutiny in recent weeks.
With all that said, I’ve picked four plays, one from each quarter, that I feel like the Bulls use to attack certain areas of the Celtics defense or to attack them because of their eagerness to limit certain types of shots.
First quadrant – cross action
This play stood out to me for two reasons. 1. It was designed to take advantage of Nikola Vucevic’s size and low profile. 2. Without roadside assistant to change the shot Cough, cough Robert Williams, there was simply no additional Celtics defender who could change Vucevic’s mindset once he caught the ball in the low block.
The play breaks down like this: DeMar DeRozan puts up a step-up screen for Vucevic before Alex Caruso puts up a cross to let the big bullsman spin onto the strong-side block. From there, Ayo Dosunmu performs a punch procedure (a fancy way of saying post-entry pass) and Vucevic goes to work for Grant Williams.
Now, Williams is credited with that possession, he fought through some tough screens to keep in touch with Vucevic, gave a solid description of himself as a defender post-match, got low, stayed connected, forced Vucevic into a physical fight – he did all the right things. However, sometimes the size advantage is what it is, and without a hand in the face it is difficult to prevent a larger opponent from scoring when he is so close to the edge.
Second Quarter – Dunk Lavigne
Why do I love this possession? basic! Daring!
There aren’t many players in the league, who consciously choose to attack Marcus Smart head-on. We’re talking Defensive Player of the Year, after all. However, Zach LaVine knew exactly what he wanted to do once he saw the space in the center of the court, so he attacked it, no matter who he was guarding.
We have to give credit to the aforementioned ball-possessed Chicago underdogs as well, who got Boston’s defense busy by laying up an overlapping screen to Patrick Williams, before Dusonmu drifted toward the block to set himself up on a potential rebound.
Of course, it was this tricky riverside action that ensured Celtic didn’t spin or were available to dig/stoke the drive ahead of LaVine’s trip. As you can see, Boston is ranked second in the NBA for limiting attempts at opponents in the 3rd corner, so running a decoy to the weak corner has always played in the Celtics’ system, and allows for the space in the middle that LaVine took advantage of.
Third Quarter – Dosunmu attacks Jayson Tatum’s shutout
It looks like the play above may have been taken straight from Joe Mazzola’s playbook. Drive and kick into the corner from DeMar DeRozan. Some low-key playmaking from Vucevic. And then, the hard slash to the paint from Javonte Green before Dusonmu forced Tatum to plant his feet and hit him with it.
You see, for all the events that occurred on that possession, it was Green’s cutting that put the nail in the coffin. As soon as the former Celtic dove headed towards the edge, Brown took off from the perimeter, opening up a clear line of command for Dosunmu to attack. Once the ball found its way to Chicago’s sophomore guard, the writing was on the wall.
We’ve seen the Celtics run such measures when their initial offense was thwarted in the half court, so it stood out when the Bulls gave Boston a taste of their own medicine midway through the third quarter.
Fourth Quarter – Caruso at Dunker’s Spot
There is nothing overly creative about this possession. There are no fancy screening procedures or moments of individual brilliance. But I found the fact that Caruso was placed at the scene of the drowning interesting and a bit amusing.
By having Caruso on the dunker, where the big sporting men usually reside, you enable Al Horford to help out and challenge any drive to the edge. So, when DeRozan spins free from Tatum, Horford is already in a position to kill DeRozan’s momentum, however, this leaves Caruso free to receive the pass and finish on an up and under pass, allowing him to use the edge to protect the ball.
I’d expect to see that kind of play by Smart or Bruce Brown, but I think I was sleeping on Caruso, because he played his part like he’s been doing it for a while – and he probably did, but I never really noticed. Either way, Boston’s eagerness to defend the three was exploited, a mid-range disposal for DeRozan was played, and there were more points on the board for Chicago.
Boston is a better team than Chicago. They’re younger, deeper, have more elite-level talent, and a more varied playbook—and yet, for some reason, the Bulls just know how to shake up the Celtics, right down to their core. Of all the weak teams in the Eastern Conference, it’s the Bulls that I’d pray Boston avoid in the first round of the playoffs, because if they don’t, we’re in for a tougher match than needed. Being a match seven, I’m not ready for that.