The floodgates opened and they never closed: Observations from Bulls-Celtics

The floodgates opened and they never closed: Observations from Bulls-Celtics

The game started and it was over: The borderline excitement from the newest evaluation group, starting Bobby Portis at center alongside Lauri Markkanen, overruled common sense about a group that hadn’t played much together. 

Just seeing a group that on paper, seemed to be the best likely lineup against a team like the Celtics was a perfect opponent to judge its effectiveness.

However, the Celtics ripped that lineup to shreds in the first several minutes, and the grand opening became the grand closing at the first timeout. 


None of it was available on the perimeter as Jaylen Brown suffocated entry passes and Al Horford used his veteran know-how and versatility to snuff out any cleverness Fred Hoiberg might have cooked up.

Before fans had fully reached their seats, it was 7-0, then 19-5 midway through the quarter and Hoiberg burned two timeouts.

“It was disappointing the way we came out of the gate,” Hoiberg said. “They made us uncomfortable, things got tough and we just shut down and quick playing. You hope when things get tough on the offensive end, you’d find a way to make the multiple-effort plays defensively to at least give yourself a chance.”



Horford, who is more comfortable as a secondary scoring option and a safety valve on pick-and-pop plays, took advantage of Kyrie Irving’s absence, bullying the Bulls inside and freed things up for Brown offensively.

Brown nearly outscored the Bulls himself in the first (14 to the Bulls’ 16) and even the shots the Celtics missed seemed to be because of anybody besides the Bulls’ defense.

Zach LaVine had his worst game of the season, going 1-for-12, and it began in the first when he missed all four of his shots. Kris Dunn was just as ineffective, starting out 2 of 6. Portis couldn't have an effect off the bench with his emotion and didn't have much of one with the first five, going 2-for-8.

“Our offense was brutal, absolutely brutal,” Hoiberg said. “We got stagnant, we quit moving and again when things got tough, we just kind of gave in.”

Sounds like the team that started off 3-20 and seemed firmly on its way to the worst record in the NBA.

Bright spot: If there was one, it was Denzel Valentine. He routinely played hard, if not great, against the Celtics and wasn’t fazed by their pressure defense. His confidence and audacity to take just about any shot has certainly been a topic of critique but in this case, the moxie was necessary.

Shooting 7 of 11 and hitting four triples earned the one bit of praise Hoiberg dished out.

"I'll say this," Hoiberg said. "Denzel came in and gave us a lift. I thought he was out there competing, he was talking. Other guys, and we've talked about this several times this year with the body language, when things get tough, we're stone faced out there, we quit talking, we quit competing. Denzel is going to fight through all of that. I thought he was the bright spot for this team."

The body language has been a problem this season and one wonders whether it's derived from being a young team or a collective mentality from the top down that affects the players. Valentine admitted it was tough to deal with the constant lineup changes, especially as someone who plays alongside the energetic Portis in the second unit.

However, he wasn't picking up that low-hanging fruit.

“If you look at the stats and how the game was going, it was our effort defensively was not there," he said. "Our offense is going to be a little stagnant (with lineup changes); the chemistry is going to be a little messed up, both we cam’t use that as an excuse of how we play; we have to come out and play hard every night."

LaVine: Usually jovial win or lose, LaVine was a bit more agitated after the game--a good sign moving forward. He was clearly annoyed with his play, taking uncharacteristic shots that were heavily contested and trying to bull his way into the lane when multiple defenders were waiting for him with long arms and attentive eyes.

He didn't want to say Brown locked him up, but he wasn't making any delusions about his own play, either.

"it starts with me and goes down the line; this was terrible," LaVine said. "Terrible all around. There’s no excuse for what we did out there. I think the game shows for itself."

LaVine had a two for 12 game against Golden State and a two for nine showing the next time out against Atlanta, but it was the third and fourth games of his comeback. Monday was in that vein and he was disappointed in the overall effort, as the Bulls shot 34 percent in the first three quarters--when they trailed by 33.

“That’s what happens you are getting your ass whooped out there (resignation)," he said. "It’s tough, we have to show it better, we’re got to be better, we have to be able to fight still; that’s what happens sometimes. It was just a bad game all around; we’ll pick it up next game, have a hard practice tomorrow and this won’t happen again."

More good news, Volume 1: The Memphis Grizzlies are in town Wednesday, losers of 14 straight. One would bet the locker room should be a happier place by 9:30 CST--either that or the #tankwatch crowd will be one step closer to utopia if they lay another egg against the worst team in the NBA (18-45).

More good news, volume 2: 19 games, 76 quarters left. The countdown is on.

LeBron James' brilliance overpowers Denzel Valentine's career night for Bulls


LeBron James' brilliance overpowers Denzel Valentine's career night for Bulls

It look a little longer than perhaps LeBron James expected—or maybe not, given the recent woes from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But it happens in a flash—no matter if it is a fadeaway jumper, darting pass through multiple defenders or a swat into the third row for an unsuspecting Cameron Payne, who acted like he hadn’t seen James’ movies.

It took an almost Herculean effort from the game’s best player to put away a pesky Bulls team, 114-109 Saturday at the United Center. James was without several regulars, including Rodney Hood, Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and Kyle Korver—and his coach, Tyronn Lue, didn’t join the bench in the second half after getting ill.

The no-look passes, the easy drives to the basket, it’s hard to realize he’s playing in his 15th season but he’s at a level few can match, even if his team struggles to keep up.

Whatever he’s lost in athleticism, he’s gained in mastering the game and making sure it’s played at his pace.

Of course, we can quibble with his indifference to defense at times and make note of how that permeates to the rest of the team, as they let the Bulls back in way too many times.

But when you say that, it’s just as easy to see his passing makes his teams unselfish. The Cavs routinely swing the ball from a good shot to a great shot, even if it’s facilitated by James himself, as they had 25 assists on 44 field goals.

“Right now the game is effortless,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “LeBron wants to be a passer first and that’s where he was hurting us early. And then he got loose and got to the rim.”

James led them with 12 in addition to his 33 points and 13 rebounds in 39 minutes, and the Cavaliers needed every bit of his production as the Bulls emptied the reservoir with four of their five regular starters out.

“I just want to get healthy,” James said. “It’s unfamiliar territory for a lot of guys, going in and out the lineup and having six guys out…I think it was a good (road) trip for us.”

The Bulls were missing Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez for various reasons.

Denzel Valentine filled in admirably for a career night and luckily, didn’t throw a cringing behind-the-back pass to the expensive seats. Buoyed by a lax defense from the opposition, he led the Bulls with 34 points, seven rebounds and six assists, hitting eight of 11 from long range in 34 minutes.

If it wasn’t for a late foul on Jordan Clarkson when the Bulls improbably tied the game at 105 with 1:41 left, the Bulls would’ve made things very interesting. But he made contact with Clarkson in the corner and the Cavaliers took a four-point lead.

James got a steal on the next possession and hit a fadeaway to complete his night, his 15th triple-double of the season.

“As soon as I went in a little bit he threw it out there,” Valentine said of James. “And I went to close out and boom. It’s just a learning moment.”

Valentine has earned praise from Hoiberg for filling a leadership void while Lopez and Justin Holiday have taken a backseat due to the organization’s wishes to evaluate young players for the rest of the season.

In the meantime, Valentine hopes he’s proving to be a starter at this level, not just a plug-and-play role player.

“I believe I’m a starter in this league,” Valentine said. “I believe I can be an important piece of an NBA team. But whatever my role on the team is that they want me to do, the organization wants me to do, I’ll do. But personally, I believe I’m a starter and I can contribute in major ways. I just got to keep working and keep getting better.”

Whether he’s a fringe starter or valuable piece off the bench, Valentine has at least shown to develop a consistent jump shot—which in today’s game puts him as a fit on any team. Shooting 39 percent on the season means if the Bulls make him available this offseason, they will have callers.

“It just shows what I’m capable of,” Valentine said. “I believe in myself even when I’m out there playing bad. But I put the work in no matter what happens, if I’m playing well [or], if I’m playing bad.”

His fearlessness, along with Bobby Portis and Cameron Payne, pulled the Bulls back from the brink after the Cavaliers took a 17-point lead before halftime.

Sixteen of his points came in the third, sending the United Center into a frenzy despite the fact a loss would be more beneficial for the franchise considering the New York Knicks destroyed the Charlotte Hornets, paving the way for the Bulls to slide back into eighth in the lottery standings.

Payne did his best to undermine the tank, with a career-high 10 assists go to with 13 points on five of 11 shooting. Portis was solid with 15 points and 15 rebounds, but had a late dunk blocked by Jeff Green.

And combined with Antonio Blakeney getting his shots up anytime he touched the ball, including on fast breaks when the Bulls had multiple-man advantages, just enough was done to give the Cavs the necessary room to end their 13-day road trip on a high note.

“We’ve got a lot of guys in positions they haven’t been in all year,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Cam was unbelievable pushing the pace, especially early in the game.”

Green added 21 and Clarkson came off the bench to score 19. All can thank James for their night—along with a fan he threw his armband to afterward, who was left in tears.

And had the Bulls actually won this game, both James and the Bulls fans would’ve been in tears.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Should the Bulls consider Trae Young?


Bulls Talk Podcast: Should the Bulls consider Trae Young?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Vincent Goodwill, and Kendall Gill discuss the concern over Zach Lavine’s inconsistent play, plus is it smart for the Bulls to offer him a max contract? Kendall also explains why the Bulls need to be careful not to lowball Lavine, like the Hornets did with him early in his career. Plus the trio discuss the early exit for Oklahoma and Trae Young. He’s likely to be there when the Bulls make their first pick, should they take him? And Vincent shares who the consensus top 5 picks are after talking with several NBA talent evaluators.