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.