NBA Playoffs 2017: Bulls using size and precision to stall Celtics' mighty offense
The Celtics' powerhouse offense has been left inept
The Chicago Bulls have demoralized the Boston Celtics in taking a 2-0 lead over the East's No. 1 seed after their 111-97 victory Tuesday night in Game 2. While Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade stole the show offensively (and Robin Lopez quietly was brilliant with 18 points), the bigger story may be how the Bulls have thrown enough wrenches in the mighty Celtics offense to grind it to a halt.
The Celtics' offensive rating was 108.6 in the regular season and has dropped to 102.7 in two games against the Bulls.
Much of what the Bulls have done is built on attacking Isaiah Thomas with abandon. Chicago knows that Thomas is the engine for the Celtics' offense and that attacking him makes life miserable for the rest. Much of that is built on aggressively showing with the big, and then recovering. Good teams would punish such a move with quick passes to the rolling big (think James Harden with Clint Capela) but here is where Isaiah Thomas' diminutive size comes into play:
Robin Lopez crowds Thomas to give Rondo enough time to recover, then relocates his man just as Rondo is flipping back onto Thomas. It's seamless.
Same deal here, as Lopez shows hard and disrupts the play, then manages to recover, while the rest of the Celtics' offense turns into a one-pass and chuck operation:
Even Nikola Mirotic, far from a great defender, is moving fluidly, showing and recovering with awareness:
The Bulls are throwing multiple levels of defense at Thomas and crowding him constantly, even in transition ... and their size is bothering him:
The Bulls have 13 blocks in two games vs. Boston, and five of them are against Thomas.
And the Bulls have smart players to act as general on the floor as well. Watch Rondo, who has not been a great defensive player over the last few years, as he switches here, recognizes that Jimmy Butler and Lopez can handle Thomas, then calls out for Niko to switch with him off-ball so that the Celtics don't get a size mismatch. Thomas can't get the ball out quick enough to punish them in the few seconds they're doing so.
When Thomas is off the floor, the Celtics don't have a creator that scares the Bulls, so they're being just as aggressive, without anyone to make them pay for it.
The Celtics were one of the best teams in the league throughout the season. Chicago was wildly underwhelming. But the Bulls' playoff-tested veterans have stepped up and they are locked into their rotations, while the Celtics are caught off guard between tentative and wildly impetuous.
The series is far from over headed back to Chicago for Game 3 (where the Celtics have not won since November, 2014), but the Bulls have established an advantage over the Celtics by mucking up the basic functions that make up Boston's identity.
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