By Brad Thompson–
Not only did the Bulls all but wrap up the top seed in the Eastern Conference by dominating the Celtics on Thursday night, they let Boston know that they aren’t intimidated and won’t be pushed around by the bullies of the East.
Offensively, Derrick Rose put on another spectacular performance, with 30 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Luol Deng added 23 points and six boards. Defensively, the Bulls’ suffocated Boston’s normally uber-efficient offense, limiting the Celtics to 81 points on 38 percent shooting.
Don’t think for a minute that Boston, who already owned a 2-1 record against Chicago this season, wasn’t hoping to send a message of their own. Even with a Boston win in Chicago on Thursday, the chances of the Celtics overtaking the Bulls for the No. 1 seed were slim. So Boston’s best option was to flex its muscles and prove that they are still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. Instead, Chicago overpowered the out of sync Celtics and kicked Boston out of town with an, “It’s our time now” message.
Chicago’s win over Boston eliminated Miami’s chances of being the top seed in the East and a win over the dismal Cavaliers on Friday will clinch the top spot and home-court for the Bulls.
Even though the Celtics are dealing with some injuries and aren’t at full strength, Coach Thibodeau proved his defensive scheme is capable of shutting down Boston. Shaq might not have played, but the Celtic’s Big 4 did and combined for a measly 39 points. Chicago’s smothering defense had Boston so out of sorts that the game never felt within reach for the Celtics in the fourth quarter. Not only had Thibodeau and the Bulls’ defense stopped the Celtics, they frustrated and demoralized Boston in the process. The Celtics had no fight left in them late in the game.
Another thing that was painfully obvious on Thursday was Rajon Rondo’s inability to guard Rose. Rondo is a terrific defender, so this isn’t meant as a knock on him, no one else can stay with Rose off the dribble either. It’s to show all those people who think Boston matches up well with Chicago because Rondo can guard Rose, are wrong. Rondo is the best defensive point guard among Miami, Orlando and Boston, but he’s still going to need significant help guarding Rose considering how often Rose blew past him on Thursday night.
Even causal NBA fans know that the playoffs are an entirely different beast than the regular season. Chicago demonstrated they can handle the physical play of the Celtics and won’t be bullied. What happens in the playoffs is yet to be seen, but Thibodeau, Rose and the Bulls sent the message that the road to the Finals goes through Chicago. The Bulls couldn’t ask to be in better position heading into the playoffs and have nothing left to prove in the regular season. It’s now time to see if they can shine in the playoffs.
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Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_M_Thompson. Find more of Brad’s blogs here.