All the signs of a season unraveled are present in Chicago. Fans leaving games early in the fourth quarter. Writers grumbling about how many games are left in the season. Coaches losing patience with their daily media grilling. Speculation flying left and right about key team personnel being escorted to the guillotine.
By contrast, the veteran Celtics entered Saturday's game against the Bulls riding a nine-game winning streak. They are relaxed, healthy and already positioning themselves for another run at the top seed in next spring's Eastern Conference playoff bracket.
In the end, the game between teams headed in opposite directions did nothing to stem the tide for either club. After a crisp, competitive first quarter, the Celtics put the screws to the inept Chicago attack while executing their own unselfish brand of offensive basketball. Boston pulled away steadily, winning 106-80 and handing Chicago its third loss by 26 points or more in eight days. That doesn't even include a home loss to New Jersey, which was 1-19 at the time.
Things are getting ugly in Chicago. Yesterday, I got an email saying Vinny Del Negro had become a follower of mine on Twitter. I was surprised, but not shocked. I am, after all, a Professional Writer and there are a half-dozen copies of Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10 floating around the Bulls' front office. Upon closer inspection, I found that this was not in fact the real Vinny Del Negro. Nope, it was someone brandishing the 21st century equivalent of pitchforks and torches: the "fire my coach" Web site.
If things keep going like this, the faux Vinny Del Negro may get his wish. Next up for the Bulls: The Lakers make their annual visit to the United Center on Tuesday.
Poss oRTG eFG% oREB% FT/FGA TO%
First Quarter 25 116.3 .464 .438 .107 .120
Second Quarter 24 105.5 .441 .111 .588 .169
Third Quarter 24 119.7 .568 .091 .182 .083
Fourth Quarter 23 99.2 .429 .077 .238 .000
FIRST HALF 49 111.0 .456 .320 .289 .144
SECOND HALF 47 109.7 .500 .083 .209 .022
FINAL 96 110.4 .477 .204 .250 .094
Poss oRTG eFG% oREB% FT/FGA TO%
First Quarter 25 104.2 .440 .250 .160 .080
Second Quarter 24 84.4 .350 .273 .300 .169
Third Quarter 24 70.2 .263 .214 .368 .165
Fourth Quarter 23 73.4 .268 .389 .071 .086
FIRST HALF 49 94.6 .400 .261 .222 .123
SECOND HALF 47 71.7 .266 .313 .191 .067
FINAL 96 83.3 .332 .291 .207 .125
To be fair, the Bulls were playing their second game of a back-to-back and their fourth game in five nights. That might account for the second-half flop that occured at the United Center. Might. You might also see in these numbers a team that raised the white flag, a team desperate for a solid victory that stopped pressuring the ball on defense and ceased to move the ball or take good shots on offense. Either way, the Bulls' performance in the second half of Saturday's game was tough to watch.
My takeaways from Saturday's game:
1. Celtics are road warriors
Facing a tough opponent is hard enough, but it's supposed to be at least somewhat of an advantage for you when an elite team visits your home floor. Not so for those who have suffered the misfortune of hosting the Celtics this season. After dispatching of the Bulls, Boston is now 11-1 on the road this season. The Celtics only loss away from The Garden was an 113-104 loss in Indianapolis on Nov. 14. We're only a quarter of the way through the season, but the Celtics already have as many or more road wins than seven teams had all of last season. Boston hasn't exactly played a murderer's row away from home, but let's have some fun with paces. The Celtics are on pace to win 38 road games, which is ridiculous and won't happen. Just for fun, here is the list of the most road victories by a team since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976:
Year Team RW End Result
1995-96 Bulls 33 won NBA finals
1996-97 Heat 32 lost conference finals
1991-92 Bulls 31 won NBA finals
1999-00 Lakers 31 won NBA finals
2004-05 Suns 31 lost conference finals
2006-07 Mavericks 31 lost first round
2007-08 Celtics 31 won NBA finals
1982-83 76ers 30 won NBA finals
1996-97 Bulls 30 won NBA finals
1983-84 Celtics 29 won NBA finals
1994-95 Spurs 29 lost conference finals
1999-00 Blazers 29 lost conference finals
2004-05 Mavericks 29 lost conference semifinals
2005-06 Spurs 29 lost conference semifinals
2008-09 Lakers 29 won NBA finals
2. Celtics are a great-shooting team
When you have good shooters, good passers, a spirit of collective unselfishness and continuity on the playing roster, you end up with an efficient offense. The Celtics are sixth in Offensive Rating on the strength of the second-best eFG% in the NBA. Among individuals, Kendrick Perkins (.658) is second in the league, while Paul Pierce (37th), Kevin Garnett (44th) and Rajon Rondo (57th) also are converting shots at a healthy clip. Note the list doesn't include Ray Allen, whose still-solid shooting rates have declined since last season. The Celtics lead the league in converting shots at the rim and also have the best percentage on midrange jumpers.
3. Kirk Hinrich is broken
Before Saturday's game, a reporter asked Vinny Del Negro about Kirk Hinrich's physical ailments. There were so many, that Del Negro drew a blank on the last couple. The thin Bulls need Hinrich's contributions off the bench desperately, as he is still the team's best perimeter defender. However, there is more plaguing Hinrich's game than injuries. He seemingly has lost his ability to hit the outside shot. A career 38 percent three-point shooter, Hinrich is just 13-of-46 (.283) this season. However, he hasn't been much better inside the arc, hitting 36 percent. Hinrich is 5-of-27 since returning last week after two weeks off with a wrist problem, among other things. Hinrich is averaging a career-low 7.9 points per game and has a career-worst .406 True Shooting Percentage. Largely because of Hinrich's absences and ineffective play, the Bulls' second unit has been getting drilled during the team's recent slump.
4. Pargo for three!
Chicago's Jannero Pargo has been battling his own physical problems as a balky back has troubled him all season. Pargo has been trying some new stretches during his pregame routine to loosen up the muscles in his lower back, but his playing time has been so sporadic that it's been difficult for him to get loose. With Hinrich ailing, the well-traveled Pargo is arguably the Bulls' best outside threat. That's may be depressing in itself, but Del Negro needs to give Pargo more consistent court time to enable the Bulls to spread the floor more effectively. Pargo played only nine minutes against Boston, but scored nine points and hit the Bulls' only three-point shot (they were 1-of-9 as a team) in the game. The Bulls rank 29th in frequency of three-pointers attempted and 27th in three-point percentage. Pargo may not be the answer, but he's the closest thing the Bulls have to a deep threat on their current roster.
5. Bulls' psyche is fragile
The Bulls look like a beaten team. After running up against the Lakers on Tuesday, the Bulls have the Knicks, Hawks and Kings in succession, all at the United Center. A month ago, this might have seemed like a golden opportunity for Chicago to bank some wins. Right now, the way the Bulls are playing, Chicago will be an underdog in each of those games -- including against the Knicks and Kings. It can still turn around, but time may be running out for Vinny Del Negro. We may know a lot more about his situation a week from now.
You can go back and read my in-game comments and get future Tweets at @bdoolittle.
Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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