With apologies to Zach Lowe, here are some things I liked and didn’t like.
The Bulls gameplan represented an intelligent and thorough understanding of their strengths and the Celtics weaknesses. In a word, it’s rebounding. The Bulls ranked 4th and 12th in Offensive and Defensive Rebound percentage; the Celtics ranked 27th and 25th. Thus the Bulls aimed to bully the Bostonians in the paint and they did. They outrebounded the Celtics 53 to 36 and 20 to 12 on the offensive glass. That’s a lot of extra possessions.
The Butler-athon in the fourth quarter wasn’t the usual hero ball. The fourth quarter turned into the Jimmy Butler show but it wasn’t the usual give Jimmy Buckets the ball and get out of the way. They ran plays, lots of plays, no really LOTS of plays. JB got the ball coming off screens at the elbow, screens along the baseline, pin downs along the arc, and so on. The Celtics are an extremely well prepared team, yet they often had no idea where the screens were coming from.
When Bobby Portis demonstrated that he had the hot hand and Niko Mirotic demonstrated that he didn’t, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg stayed with Portis. This was coach Fred Hoiberg’s first playoff game as a coach. In the postseason, the long term ceases to be measured in years or months or even weeks from now, it becomes it measured in minutes, and Hoiberg demonstrated some understanding of that by staying with Portis at the power forward, and the second year player rewarded the confidence of his coach by having his best game as a pro. He produced 19 points (on eight of ten shooting), nine boards, three assists and two blocked shots and a plus 12. Who knows maybe on Tuesday he’ll go back to getting lost on screens defensively and heaving contested bricks, but tonight he was the right choice and Hoiberg made the right call nailing Niko’s butt to the bench in the fourth quarter
The Bulls went with a playoff rotation. For the entirety of the 82 game rotation, Hoiberg used players as if he was trying to figure out what he had. Most coaches do that for a few weeks even two months, so it was more than a little discouraging that 60 games into the season the Bulls rotation was unsettled, literally changing from night to night. Yet in Game 1, the Bulls played nine guys, Butler, Wade, Rondo, Lopez, Portis, Mirotic, Grant, Zipser and Felico. Even in the fourth quarter of a playoff game on the road, there was substantial continuity.
The number of possessions where Rondo was tasked with guard the Celtics star Isaiah Thomas. Rondo can’t guard anyone that quick anymore, and the defensive gameplan should have accounted for this.
The disorganization in late game out of bounds plays. Every team should have about a half dozen out of bounds plays designed to get the ball in the hands of a good free throw shooter so that protecting a lead is easier. The Bulls, even with a timeout to burn failed at this late in the fourth quarter and the final score was closer than it needed to be.
But that’s about it. The Bulls demonstrated that this isn’t your usual one seed versus eight seed playoff series with the win. Only twelve wins separate the two teams by record, and even less than that if you consider point differential. Yes, the Celtics could still win this series in five games, they are demonstrably better than the Bulls. But in their game one win, the Bulls showed some savvy and smarts that have been absent far too often in the regular season.