NBA Column: Give the Bulls their due

Boston Celtics forward Amir Johnson (90) fouls Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez (8) during the first quarter of a first-round NBA playoff basketball game in Boston, Tuesday, April 18, 2017. (Charles Krupa/AP)

With the No. 1-seeded Boston Celtics losing their second consecutive home game to the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night—putting them in a 0-2 hole in the series—much has been made of how the roof is falling in.

They’ve been getting eviscerated in the media: Head coach Brad Stevens can’t coach. Al Horford is soft. The whole team is soft. These accusations, along with a host of other issues that have become apparent this series, have some merit to them. Not to the extreme of some of the hot takes I’ve seen, but they’re not baseless.

That said, let’s not act like the Celtics are just shooting themselves in the foot here. The Bulls put the gun in their hand and aimed it there.

A team that seemed to be the embodiment of what you don’t want to be in the modern NBA—old, mediocre and unable to shoot—has suddenly turned the tables on a season that barely netted them the No. 8 spot in the feeble Eastern Conference.

They’re shooting the ball better, for starters. As a team, they shot 44 percent from the field with an effective field goal percentage of 48.7 percent. So far through two games on a court that is not their own, they’re shooting 46.9 percent from the field with an eFG percentage of 52.

Paul Zipser, their 2016 second round pick and bench crew member, shot 39.8 percent from the field 33 percent from three point range this season while playing 19 minutes per game and averaging 5.5 points per game, producing a PER (player efficiency rating) of 6.9. This series he’s shooting 58.3 percent, 40 percent from three and averaging 11 points per game in increased minutes.

Bobby Portis, a power forward with some floor stretching ability, has seen a similar improvement in his offense performance, which killed the Celtics game one. He has an offensive rating of 207 right now, after a regular season performance of 110. Even Dwayne Wade, shooting 31 percent from three on the season, is four-of-six from deep so far.

Elsewhere, Rajon Rondo has gone back in time, it seems, and been phenomenal. He’s averaging a near-triple double with a line of 11.5 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game and 10 assists per game. His playoff PER is up from around 13 in the regular season to 22.2 currently.

However, where the Bulls have most overtly outplayed the Celtics is down low. Portis is a factor, but center Robin Lopez deserves an exorbitant amount of credit. He’s averaging 16 points per game with nine rebounds and six offensive rebounds per game. It’s not super gaudy, but he’s also shooting 70 percent from the field. All these numbers, especially the shooting percentage and offensive rebounding, make an uptick from his season’s work and make all the difference.

The Celtics’ big men led by Horford, Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk, are getting reamed for getting outrebounded badly both games, and allowing the Bulls an offensive rebounding percentage of 37.8, up 10 percent from the regular season. But the fact is the Bulls are earning these rebounds. Robin Lopez has been physical and battled on the boards both games. He is putting himself in a position to be successful, playing with confidence, and deserves just as much credit as the Celtics are due blame for the discrepancy down low.

The Bulls have the swagger right now. Their offense is grooving. They’re winning the offensive rebounding battle, the turnover battle and have an offensive rating of 117.5, up 10.1 from the regular season.

Trust me, I’ve watched the games, and it’s accurate Boston has been quite bad. But these two victories didn’t just fall in Chicago’s lap. They’re blending youth and experience, getting improved contributions from new sources and simply performing at a level not indicative of what earned them the No. 8 seed. Should it continue, they’re not going to be an easy game for anybody, in any round.


Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.barresi@uconn.edu.