BOSTON — Of all the metrics that could be described to best illustrate yet another disappointing effort for the Bulls in their 100-80 loss to the Boston Celtics Sunday afternoon at TD Garden, one snapshot stands out as they simply submitted from the opening tip.
On consecutive possessions after turnovers and misses, only one Bull crossed halfcourt as the Celtics increased their lead to 29 with uncontested layups in the third quarter.
It prompts the question, given the five-game losing streak and the manner in which it’s happened recently, of whether the Bulls have given up on the season — despite being in playoff contention.
"No, I don’t think we're giving up," Jimmy Butler said. "We're just not playing any type of good basketball as a whole. We gotta get back to winning basics before we can try to do anything else. Getting back in transition. Guarding the way we’re supposed to be. Taking the right shots. I'm sure we're gonna talk about that for awhile before we play Charlotte.
"But we're not giving up, I can tell you that."
Not much changed from Friday night's showing or strategy against the Houston Rockets. Fred Hoiberg played 11 players in the first half, with only Michael Carter-Williams being the change.
"It's tough," Dwyane Wade said. "Especially when you're playing teams that's ready for the playoffs, besides Orlando. It's all been playoff teams and they're ready. They know what they gotta do. We're still… experimenting."
Whether it actually played a part in the Bulls' worst first quarter and first half showing is up for speculation, but shooting three for 22 in the first quarter against a Celtics team that wasn't playing swarming defense.
"I don't think it was a lack of competing but a lack of shot making," Hoiberg said. "Missed some really good looks and turned it over four times in that span. But to answer your question, the vets are staying positive and that's the only way I can judge it right now."
They missed their first 12 shots from the field before Wade bailed them out with a jumper and the Celtics jumped out to a 20-4 lead as the Bulls mustered just nine points in the quarter.
Wade, who finished a career-low minus-37 on the plus-minus scale, offered some level of shelter for Hoiberg, as the Bulls coach and players have been put in an impossible position since the trade deadline.
"It does, it does. A lot of people have a lot of things they can say about Fred as a coach but I will defend him on this: this is a tough situation he's been put in," Wade said. "I'm glad I'm on this side, glad I got a jersey and I don't have to make certain decisions because it is tough. No one is going care too much, Fred gets a nice paycheck, I got a nice paycheck, Jimmy gets a nice paycheck. This 2016-17, we all go down together no matter what the story is. And it's on us."
Watching his words given how calling his teammates out went several weeks ago, Wade was asked if it was fair of him to answer questions about a situation no one in the locker room created.
"I don't know. I wish upper management could be answering the questions because I'm tired of answering them every game," Wade said. "I don't know. I wish I had the answer. I don't wanna say too much, I don't wanna say the wrong thing. I just wanna get out there, try to play and lead. Figure out a way me and Jimmy can be better. Right now they're just watching us on pick and rolls, we gotta find a way to be better, so we can help everybody else be better."
Wade might've washed out his defense of Hoiberg when Wade suggested he and Butler are too easy to guard, saying "pick and rolls, that ain't it." Wade said he and Butler would have to get with the coaching staff before Monday's game in Charlotte to try to figure out new strategies to get them easier looks — because at this stage, opponents have figured the Bulls out and the word is spreading to trap Wade and Butler, then wait on the house of cards to fall from there.
The nine was the season-low for any quarter this season — which was one short of the players Hoiberg used in the first as Nikola Mirotic was further embarrassed by being listed as inactive in place of Isaiah Canaan.
Butler's post-All Star slump continued as he shot just two for 11, but it wasn't as bad as Bobby Portis' nightmare.
Airballs, turnovers, you name it, Portis probably did it as he struggled as much as he has at any point during this stretch since the trade of Taj Gibson.
The problem is, he wasn't the only one as the Celtics didn't break a sweat. Wade shot four for 11. Joffrey Lauvergne was one for seven. Rajon Rondo was one for five.
Overall, the Bulls shot 36 percent as Denzel Valentine made a dent in the scoring column with 13 but all came when the game was out of reach — and the playoffs look not too far behind.
Once the Celtics' lead reached double figures at 10-0 with 7:44 left in the first quarter, the Bulls never got it under 10.
There was no need for an Isaiah Thomas explosion, although he and Avery Bradley had a field day against the Bulls' guards. Thomas scored 22 and Bradley 17, with each playing under 30 minutes.
Rookie Jaylen Brown showed some signs why he'll be a big piece in any trade discussions this summer, with a couple highlight plays in his 21 minutes.
But the Celtics didn't blow out the Bulls with red-hot shooting or otherworldly efficiency, although they corralled plenty of loose balls and hit 14 triples.
They simply didn't need to bring their best game because their opponent forgot to bring any game to TD Garden.