Boston’s quest for an 82-0 record at the end of the season came to a close with an eye-opening loss in Chicago against the Bulls. The Celtics’ red-hot start filled with constant movement and precise cutting was eliminated entirely in the second quarter when the Bulls began to rip Boston apart on the offensive end, scoring 35 points compared to Boston’s 15. There can be a lot taken from this game, whether it was the disapproval the Boston Celtics had for the referees, the ejections of Joe Mazzulla and Grant Williams, or the fact that Boston’s defense struggled massively in both the second and third quarters.
Above all, the lack of size and inability to secure defensive rebounds, limiting the number of second-chance points is a concern going forward. Anyone can look at the ejections as a potential turning point in the game, but at the end of the day, giving up 10 offensive rebounds to a single player is going to cause an uphill battle.
Following the win over the 76ers, Mazzulla was honest about where his team stands at the moment and having players step up, stating:
"“Anytime you’re not fully healthy, the accountability is stretched a little bit. Everybody has got to do a little bit more. I think it’s getting used to the fact that we’re not big right now, and how can we be great at that?”"
He continued, stating:
"“I think it’s just on all of us to figure that out. It goes into the matchup, do I feel like we match up well on both ends of the floor.”"
Boston stepped up to the task against the 76ers on opening night following a preseason filled with struggles on the glass, but against a player like Nikola Vucevic, there was little to no resistance on the inside. The Celtics won both the turnover battle and netted more points in transition, but when going up against 2 of the top 5 players in defensive rebounding percentage, issues are going to be exposed, especially when old habits begin to creep back into the half-court offense.
The Boston Celtics face uphill battle on both ends without Robert Williams
After out-rebounding the opposition in the first 2 games on national television, the Boston Celtics got two reality checks of what it is going to have to overcome in order to win as many games as it can without Robert Williams III forcing opponents to think twice before attempting a close-range shot. Passing and ball movement is how the Celtics are going to cause issues for the opposition and nullify the lack of size from top to bottom. When Boston moved away from that in the second 12 minutes of the contest, Chicago was able to calm down and grow back into the game.
Overall, the Bulls are going to cause a lot of problems on the glass this season with their size. Nikola Vucevic, along with the 7-foot wingspan of Patrick Williams and the stature of Andre Drummond, have the chance to be one of the best rebounding teams in the league. Currently, Chicago sits in fourth in the NBA in rebounding percentage at 57% while Boston sits in the middle at 16th in that category. Pace is the name of the game for the Celtics this season, having a multitude of players that can stretch the floor in all positions.
At some points, Vucevic’s size looked to have overwhelmed the Boston Celtics, but when guarding someone of his quality, positioning yourself in the right spot has to be the No. 1 priority. At the end of the second quarter, both Williams and Jaylen Brown got lazy, and forgot about the big man behind them, giving up a momentum-swinging bucket and the foul with one minute left until halftime.
After cutting the lead to three in the third quarter, 3 Boston Celtics stared and looked at Vucevic in the middle of the paint who battled for the rebound, and was awarded the eventual foul call. More than once he took advantage of the size against Malcolm Brogdon, but with this current roster that is healthy, this is something Boston is going to have to live with.
The obvious issue is size, but looking below the surface, settling for poor shots only added to the issues at hand and emphasized the problem that Boston encounters this season without its starting center. When shots are not falling, players tend to drag on the defensive end. With that in mind, the Bulls used that to ignite their offense, netting a total of 46 points in the paint compared to the 34 scored by Boston.
Hiding the flaw simply involves using the resources around them, and with the amount of talent, the fluidity on the offensive end should never be an obstacle. As the season progresses, there are going to be even more challenges in the frontcourt, and when that happens, the energy is created through its movement. Some may say defense leads to offense, but the best offense often leads to competitive defense and constant attention on the other end.