I'm going to try to stay away from all the Halloween clichés—horror show, and frightful night and it being scary.
Though Friday night's brutal 96-80 Bulls loss to the defending champion Boston Celtics (there's one excuse, at least) was all of those colorful adjectives and more.
The worst part, though, was how unprepared the Bulls were and how indifferent they appeared to be against a really good team. Give Boston that. They know how to win, they are good and they know when a team isn't up to it. It was reminiscent of some Bulls games we'd see in the 1990's when the Bulls would come out against some slug, rip off a big lead and then basically cruise the rest of the way knowing the other team didn't even seem to care to play.
It was impressive to see the way the Celtics veterans would provide multiple screens on the weak side to produce open shots for Ray Allen early. For the Bulls, there's not nearly as much motion or action and players are too often left in the half court to make a play on their own or off a slow developing high screen.
The Bulls don't have the talent to play with these veteran and knowledgeable Celtics, but what was discouraging was how indifferent their play and attitude appeared to be, especially in the first half when they effectively lost the game.
Even on the national TV broadcast, former coach Jeff Van Gundy was noting Kirk Hinrich's poor body language as he ENTERED the game for the first time. The camera would catch Hinrich walking back into plays after he'd miss shots or was arguing with non calls. It does begin to raise the question of whether he can deal with or accept the backup guard role behind Derrick Rose.
Though Hinrich was hardly the only one sleep walking Friday.
It seemed the whole starting lineup was other than Rose, who despite some foul trouble was left on bench an inordinate amount of time by coach Vinny Del Negro. C'mon, was this ever going to be a game coming down to the last minute? Try to get back in the game first before planning to win it at the end.
Rose only had one assist, though that was less from everyone missing shots to him realizing quickly he had to be a scorer. Rose did so on some sharp drives right at Kevin Garnett for layups. But he went out for long stretches after a third foul in the first half and a fourth in the second half, playing 28 minutes, yet finished with four fouls. Though a rookie, he looks savvy enough if you tell him not to foul.
What, Rajon Rondo is going to go off on you?
Rose did commit some rookie blunders early, though it appeared no one had paid much attention to the scouting report. Rondo, despite making a few shots in some playoff games last season, can't shoot. So you stay off him. The Bulls consistently crowded him early and he drove by for baskets. I know Del Negro and his assistants know enough about Rondo that you let him shoot.
I know it shouldn't have taken this long, but Boston quickly figured out whom among the Bulls to let shoot: Tyrus Thomas.
Thomas squeezed off 17 in 29 minutes, most from the 17-foot range, missing 15. And most badly. You can hear him saying how they all felt good leaving his land. He had his LSU buddy Baby Davis on him at times and on screens Davis ran straight to the basket when Thomas got the ball, allowing Thomas wide open jumpers. I lost count, but Thomas clanked something like 10 of his first 11, and it's not like this is Ray Allen having a bad shooting night.
Shooters shoot. Jumpers and runners should jump and run.
Del Negro did get Thomas out after what was his poorest shot, a wild one off a shake and bake—sort of—move after Davis committed a flagrant foul on him.
Thomas did stay with it and upgraded his hustling later in the game, which you've got to credit him for. Although it may be because he thought he'd get more shots. But the way he started the game, you'd think Garnett had a serious case of body odor. Thomas seemed to want no part of being anywhere near him.
But it wasn't all bad.
Joakim Noah was working hard, and though you don't want to make lineup changes after a bad game—though that's when they usually come—the Bulls have got to think about getting Noah's hustle and size into the game sooner. With Drew Gooden and Thomas, they're just too small to start, and the Bulls have to think about getting more scoring into the starting lineup as Rose, Thabo Sefolosha and Thomas with Luol Deng and Gooden isn't enough offense.
With that lineup, the Bulls have to push the ball in transition and go to the basket and draw fouls, which worked well against a slower Milwaukee team on opening night. If they cannot do that, which would be difficult against a meticulous, hard working team like Boston, they need better shooting to open the game. It's OK to change lineups to deal with matchups or teams, especially with a team of developing players and a new coach.
Let them earn their time. Keep them guessing a bit. Let's see who works and who wants it more.
I'm a little worried about Deng, though not because he had a poor shooting game. He can make shots; it happens. But by this time in his career I'd like to see some post game and some more distance on his shot. Maybe, like with former coach Scott Skiles, he's being told to stay away from the three-point line. He plays in the summer for England, but it doesn't appear he's worked on his game that much, perhaps because of the consecutive contract negotiation summers. He has room to improve.
I know his body type, which is more straight up, makes getting down in a defensive stance more difficult, but it's also something you'd like to see him improve on, and he should be able to.
Better teams expose your weaknesses, and so the result against a team like Boston is not a great surprise. Like the late coach Cotton Fitzsimmons used to do after a blowout loss: He'd come into the locker room afterward, flush the toilets and say they could start feeling relieved and move on.
But this Bulls team won't be able to view any loss as an aberration. They need to work to win. I watched some of the Memphis game Friday night, and they have some stuff. Darko may be the game's worst player, but Marc Gasol is a tough big man who can make some plays and Rudy Gay is a bigtime athletic swingman whom the Bulls will have difficulty containing.
They play Rose and you can bet their guards have heard plenty about him from the U. of Memphis last season. Kyle Lowry looked very good in relief of Mike Conley. They're not chopped liver or iron filings. But they're beatable, and Friday's won't seem so bad if the Bulls can jump on the Grizzlies quickly at home Saturday. They showed they can against the Bucks. That's it, they just were in costume Friday. Pretending to be NBA players. Sorry, I couldn't resist. Just kidding.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors.