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Celtics take series from Bulls in Game 6 drubbing

Celtics take series from Bulls in Game 6 drubbing

The last Bulls’ home playoff game before this series was a disastrous, effortless drubbing to the Cleveland Cavaliers on a Friday night in May two years ago.

The Boston Celtics completed their resounding and emphatic comeback using the same formula and the Bulls were greeted by the same reaction from the United Center fans on a Friday night in April, with a chorus of boos.

That game brought about a summer of change, chief among them a coach firing and hiring of Fred Hoiberg, who had to watch his team submit physically and emotionally to the Celtics in Game 6 of their first-round series with a 105-83 loss at the United Center Friday night.

The Celtics took what was left of the Bulls’ competitiveness by the end of the third quarter with a 34-18 flurry to give themselves a 29-point cushion, on a night where the Bulls can only say two words.

“We stunk.”

Dwyane Wade shot just one for 10, and the Bulls shot just 38 percent as the Celtics acted like the schoolyard bullies who takes lunch money through the hallways, a far different scene compared to the first two games when the Bulls looked ready to make history as an eight-seed poised to knock off a top seed.

“I understand the frustration (from the fans),” Hoiberg said. “It was a frustrating game, no doubt about that, to go out this way. The high note to start this series, getting out to a 2-0 lead, we couldn’t finish it off. We fought, we battled, especially that Game 5 in Boston. We didn’t have it tonight.”

Gerald Green scored 16 as Brad Stevens’ signature personnel adjustment from Game 3, and Celtics guard Avery Bradley continued his torrid end to the series with nine of 12 shooting, including three of four from 3-point range, to score 23 points.

All five Celtics starters scored in double figures, and they jumped on the Bulls early from three, hitting 16 triples—a move to which the Bulls had no counter. The Celtics got off to another quick start, hitting three quick triples and never truly looked back.

They even did it without Isaiah Thomas exploding, but the attention paid to him from the Bulls resulted in unselfish ball movement and a Bulls defense that didn’t look ready for it, yet again, as the Celtics had 28 assists on 39 field goals.

“They shot the three ball here better than they did at their place and we played better at their place than we did here; very weird series from that standpoint,” Wade said. “At the end of the day they came out and took care of business… eighth seed we didn’t have all our guys but we put a fight up, made it a tough series and I’m proud of our guys.”

Everything was in vain, from Hoiberg’s adjustments to Rajon Rondo’s sideline pressing to Jimmy Butler’s ability to play through pain, because their spirits were broken and their bodies were bruised—from attrition in some cases and the Celtics in others, as they beat up the Bulls in every way that mattered, as Robin Lopez was the only Bull besides Butler (23 points) to score in double figures with 10 points as the Bulls shot 39 percent and were four of 21 from 3-point range.

“I’d have played more minutes I’d of went one for 20; I don’t care; you have to shoot the basketball,” Wade said. “Jimmy did came out tried to be aggressive tonight; they kicked our butt overall. I played 19 minutes; I’ve been one for 10 in a half before.”

Butler was playing through an injured left knee and clearly lacked explosiveness, but was doing more than his share to keep the Bulls alive—by a thread. He wouldn’t elaborate on the injury but by the end of the third quarter, it appeared he had no business on the floor with the game out of reach and risking possible serious injury.

“The same thing everybody this time of year feels,” Butler said. “Nicked up a little bit, still gotta go out there and compete, play the best basketball you can. Nobody feels sorry for me that I’m nicked up, I’m okay with it.”

It was a thread that popped when he took a rest to start the second quarter and the Bulls down by seven that ballooned to 17 quicker than you can say “20-second timeout”.

“That’s one thing people don’t realize how banged up Jimmy was,” Hoiberg said. “You talked about that fourth quarter in the last game, only getting two shots. A lot of that was his limitations, trying to get the ball up the floor against Avery Bradley. Felt better today, got treatment throughout the day yesterday and today to put himself in the position to go out there and fight with his teammates.”

At that point, it was a matter of time before the Celtics truly put the game out of reach, because Butler could only do but so much and with Wade having his worst game of the series, no rescue was on the way.

Butler was efficient with nine of 17 shooting, but his teammates contributed to go just 15 of 43 (34 percent) by the end of the third, with the Celtics getting stronger and stronger as they saw the Bulls were rudderless without Rondo’s services for the fourth straight game.

The Celtics continuously attacked the Bulls and found their soft spots. First, it was their defense, and then it was their psyche as the Bulls learned a lesson in physical and mental toughness.

A week ago, it was thought the Bulls had the advantage, up 2-0 with an edge that bordered on cockiness.

By the end of 36 minutes, the edge dwindled to hopelessness and one wonders what the next step for the storied franchise will be as the Celtics move on, and Bulls are going fishing.

NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

In the first round of testing announced since the NBA began playing official restart games on July 30, there's more good news.

Of the 343 players tested for COVID-19 since the last results were announced on July 29, there remains zero positive tests. This is the third round of testing results made public in a joint statement from the NBA and NBPA, whose strict safety protocols appear to be working. Teams have now been in the so-called "bubble" on the Disney World campus outside Florida for close to a month.

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The statement reiterated that if one positive test occurs, that player will be isolated until he meets all rules established by the two parties to resume play. The 22 teams on the Disney campus traveled with limited parties of 35 people. Players undergo daily testing.

The season is scheduled to conclude in October with the NBA Finals. Commissioner Adam Silver and Michele Roberts, executive director of the players association, long made it clear they badly wanted to crown a 2019-20 champion, even when Silver paused the league in mid-March after Rudy Gobert posted the first positive test. The league and NBPA have drawn rave reviews from around the sporting world for the execution of their plan to this point.

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Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

It’s Day 147 since the Bulls last played a game. The NBA has restarted its season to first-weekend-of-March-Madness-esque affect. With no positive COVID-19 cases yet reported from within the bubble, and games taking on a playoff feel, buzz is palpable.

But no, the Bulls have not yet announced a decision on the future of head coach Jim Boylen.

Still, tea-leaf reading continues to abound with respect to Boylen’s job status, and it’s easy to reason why. After a tumultuous third year of the current rebuild, ownership installed fresh leadership at the highest level of the front office in executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas; in turn, Karnisovas brought on general manager Marc Eversley, assistant GM J.J. Polk and VP of player personnel Pat Connelly. John Paxson retreated to an advisory role and Gar Forman was fired. There’s been a bit of deck-shuffling in the training and coaching staffs, though most were based on contract option deadlines.

All of which is to say, winds of change are howling for a franchise that was in dire need of it.

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So — whichever direction the team goes — what’s the hold up on committing to or moving on from Boylen? Karnisovas publicly addressed that question at his end-of-season conference call nearly two months ago.

“I know that you are anxious for me to comment definitively on our future of the Chicago Bulls. I understand that anticipation,” Karnisovas said. “That said, I take pride in being deliberate and thoughtful in my decision-making and take the weight of my decisions seriously. I’m not inclined to make evaluations prematurely to satisfy our excitement to move this team forward.”

Then: “I’d like to be in a building, to be in practices, to be around the coaching staff in meetings. We’re looking forward to getting in the video room together, analyze the games, to watch games together… In order for me to keep players and coaches accountable, I have to have personal relationships with them.”

That, and leaguewide financial uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, appear to have contributed to Karnisovas playing the long game in deciding on Boylen’s future.

But a vocal segment of the fanbase hasn’t been satisfied with that approach. And a common mantra among that group has been that keeping Boylen aboard as long as the new regime has is directly contradictory to their stated goal of making the Bulls a “players first” organization. Boylen’s 39-84 record through one-and-a-half seasons is the kindling for calls for his job. Reports of players privately expressing discontent with him have stoked the flames further.

So, in the spirit of getting it down on paper, let’s run through key Bulls players’ most recent public comments on Boylen (disclaimer: since the league shutdown began). We’ll update this piece if and when more filter through:

Tomáš Satoranský, Aug. 4: “I certainly don’t want to throw dirt on him”

Tuesday, Lukas Kuba, who’s all over all things Sato, had this tidbit from an interview Satoranský conducted on Express FM, a Czech radio station. In it, Satoranský acknowledged the harsh realities of the 2019-20 season, but was largely sympathetic towards Boylen due to a combination of his first-year status, front-facing role and work ethic:

 

Per Kuba, Satoranský has commented on Boylen to Czech media multiple times since the Bulls last played, and stayed diplomatic doing it. A common thread: Sato seems to see Boylen as a positive thinker who works hard, even if the fruits of that care factor haven’t bloomed on the court. He has also criticized Boylen’s rotations, but maintained — at least publicly — that he thinks Boylen will be back next season:

  

All of the above is likely translated from Czech — important context to note if analyzing every word.

Daniel Gafford, July 21: “He aight”

For the most part, Bulls players have maintained diplomacy speaking on Boylen since the NBA shuttered on March 11. Rookie center Daniel Gafford represents the most glaring exception. Here’s how he responded to a viewer question on his opinion of Boylen while live-streaming on Twitch:

 

“He aight. I don’t like him a lot but he OK,” Gafford said. “Got some things he can work on. Got some things he can get better at — as a person and as a coach. Not gonna hate on him, not gonna hate the man, but you know (trails off)...”

Far from a ringing endorsement, especially when you listen to Gafford’s tone in the audio itself. 

Context: Boylen light-heartedly admitted in the preseason that he’d been hard on Gafford in the run-up to the start of his first year; then, Gafford started the season out of the rotation in favor of free-agent-signing Luke Kornet before the rooke from Arkansas burst out with 21 points (10-for-12 FG), five rebounds and two blocks on Nov. 18 against the Milwaukee Bucks, unimpeachably proving his merit.

And on Jan. 6, there was this incident, when Boylen appeared to leave a timeout in his pocket with Gafford writhing in pain on the floor after turning his ankle in a game against the Dallas Mavericks. Gafford was allowed to sub out only after play stopped for a foul called on Tim Hardaway Jr.

 

Zach LaVine, June 5: “I think he goes out there and does his best.”

Thad Young, June 5: “He’s probably one of the more energetic coaches I’ve played for”

Both LaVine and Young took the high road when asked about Boylen in their end-of-season press conferences back in early June.

“I’m going to keep the same stance I always have. It’s not for me to judge somebody. I think he goes out there and does his best. I don’t think anybody in any organization in the NBA goes out there and tries to fail,” LaVine said. “Sometimes, it’s out of your power on won-loss record or what happens during the game. I know for a fact he tries and does his best. That’s all you can ask for sometimes. As a player, I just follow the lead and do my job. On decisions and things like that, I leave that up to higher management. That’s not my role in the organization.”

And, in a perfect closing line: “I think you know I was going to answer that correctly.”

“That’s not really a question for me to answer,” Young echoed. “I think that’s more up to the front office. Obviously, Jim is very energetic. He’s probably one of the most energetic coaches I’ve played for. My job is to go out there and basically help lead this team to try to win games and play to the best of my ability each night. It’s the same for each guy down the line. That’s something you’ll have to ask Marc and Arturas and let them answer.”

Both LaVine and Young also had public differences of opinion with Boylen throughout the season. For LaVine, the inflection point was being pulled three-and-a-half minutes into an early-season blowout loss to the Miami Heat for what Boylen termed “three egregious defensive mistakes.”

“I’ve got pulled early before by him. I guess that’s just his thing to do,” LaVine said that night, only to drop 49 points and 13 3s on the Charlotte Hornets the next. 

An evident show of frustration (“Why?”) caught on camera following a last-minute Boylen timeout amid a 27-point defeat to the Toronto Raptors stands out, too. The near-coup that took place when Boylen took over in 2018 is well-documented, as is LaVine paying a $7,000 fine for the coach late last season — at the time, a sign of an evolving relationship that has since seen more bumps.

And Young’s frustrations with his role, first made public in a report by the Chicago Sun-Times in December 2019, permeated an up-and-down campaign in which he was asked to adjust to a style he hadn’t encountered in his 13-year career and inconsistent playing time. His best stretch came in place of an injured Lauri Markkanen, but he finished 2019-20 with non-rookie-year career-lows in points, rebounds and minutes per game.


How much stock you put into the above comments is in the eye of the beholder. They all contribute to the murky picture around the Bulls’ coaching situation right now.

RELATED: Why Arturas Karnisovas’ long play on Jim Boylen's future is the smart play

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