Low-energy? Not the Bulls, who’ve turned the page just in time
BOSTON — Pulled up a chair next to longtime Celtics public-address announcer Eddie Palladino before Game 2 of the opening-round playoff series against the Bulls. He was hunkered over a plate in a dining area for media and other hugely important types, and I asked him for his assessment of the state of things.
“The fish is edible,” he said, stabbing a forkful to prove it.
No, I explained, I was talking about the game. Kind of a big one for the Bulls, who were trying to start a playoff series with back-to-back road wins for the first time in franchise history. And certainly of the utmost importance to the Celtics, who don’t want to become only the sixth No. 1 seed to be knocked out by a No. 8 since the NBA expanded to a 16-team postseason format in 1984.
“Hopefully we jump all over the Bulls early,” he said, “and then don’t let them back in it.”
I had to admit, I was sensing that very thing might happen myself. How to truly believe in a Bulls team that started its season by winning three in a row, then losing three in a row, then winning two, then losing two, then winning two more and then losing two more?
Every time they did something good, they canceled it out with something equally bad. They were 11-7 after their first game of December and 16-18 by the end of the month. Their 7-2 spurt to sneak into the playoffs was necessarily only because of the 2-8 slogfest that preceded it. Did anything speak more accurately about this team than its .500 record at the end of the regular season?
And, of course, it hasn’t been just about wins and losses with the Bulls. There’ve been problems between players, constant questions about Rajon Rondo’s role, shots taken at coach Fred Hoiberg, locked-in performances against the strongest opponents and zombie-like outings against the weakest ones.
When you can’t even count on energy and effort, what can you count on?
“I liked how we came out [Sunday] with effort,” Hoiberg said before the game, “and that’s what it’s going to take every night for us to have an opportunity to win games.”
April seems a little late to be pointing that out, but whatever. It’s hardly a time to quibble after the Bulls took the court Tuesday and out-energied, out-efforted — out-everythinged — the Celtics 111-97. All of us who doubted the Bulls had really turned a page, who expected the customary chaser of disappointment after that Game 1 shot of success, couldn’t have been more wrong.
When the Celtics scored the first seven points of the game, I was reminded of Game 2 in the second round in Cleveland in 2015. After stealing Game 1 over LeBron James and the Cavs, those Bulls were obliterated 38-18 in the first quarter a couple of nights later. Maybe that was the sort of punishment Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and company were in for?
Heavens, no. The Bulls were so good in the first quarter, it was they who looked like the No. 1 seed. There were steals in bunches, offensive rebounds galore, one big-time play after another by Rondo and Robin Lopez.
And what happened in the opening period became the trend. After Boston went on an 18-5 run to go up by two early in the second quarter, it felt again like the Bulls were in a terrible spot. Yet they surged back, the bigger, stronger, seemingly more athletic — let’s just say it, better — team, and regained control. Rinse, repeat throughout the second half.
“It was a game of runs, obviously,” Lopez said. “They hit us in the mouth a couple of times, but we did a great job responding, staying on course.”
Twenty years ago, a Bulls dynasty was on its way to another league title. Ten years ago, the 48-win Bulls of Luol Deng, Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich — not exactly a dynasty — were sweeping the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.
I guess I’d just assumed these Bulls weren’t as good as either of those teams.
I’m thinking now that I was wrong about that. I’ll bet a lot of us were.
It was over 80 degrees outside in Boston on Easter Sunday. It ticked under 40 Tuesday night. I had a line teed up about the only thing more unpredictable than the weather being the 2016-17 Chicago Bulls.
Nope, not going to use it now.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.