BOSTON — Everything about Bulls center Robin Lopez is a little, shall we say, quirky. Most of it charmingly so.
He has running feuds with mascots across the NBA. He’s a walking nerdfest, with ‘‘Star Wars’’ and comic books never far from his mind. He loves to make fun of twin brother, Brook, even though Brook is the leading scorer in Nets history while the goofier, hairier Robin is on his sixth NBA team.
The Bulls’ Lopez has a sense of humor about himself, too. After a play in January when a Michael Carter-Williams pass smashed off his face and bounced to then-Bull Taj Gibson, who dunked the ball, Lopez immediately pointed to the scorer’s table and demanded that he be credited with an assist. That night, he retweeted a video of the lowlight and wrote: “Basketball is in danger of growing stale. I’m taking it to strange new places.”
Lopez releases his jump shot from right under his chin and has a hook shot that can perhaps best be described as prehistoric-looking. He doesn’t run as much as he stalks, hunched forward with an occasionally wild look in his eyes.
“When I step on the court,” he said Monday, a day before Game 2 of the Bulls’ opening-round playoff series against the Celtics, “I get swept up. ‘Swept up’ is the perfect phrase, I think, to summarize how I feel.”
You see? Charming.
But there was nothing charming about the way Lopez performed in the Bulls’ 106-102 Game 1 victory Sunday. On a night when Jimmy Butler took over like a superstar and Bobby Portis hit one big shot after another, Lopez was the player who hurt Boston the most.
The game was decided on the boards, where the Bulls feasted — especially Lopez, who never rag-dolled a mascot like he did the Celtics. Eight offensive rebounds by one guy? That’s kind of nuts.
“We have to do a better job as a team of being able to contain him,” Celtics guard Avery Bradley said. “Bigs have to box him out. Guards have to come down and rebound. It’s a team issue.”
A whole team, needing to worry about Lopez? It seems to be true.
Without his handful of putbacks and the second-chance opportunities he created, the Bulls could be down 1-0 in the series.
According to Celtics coach Brad Stevens, defensive rebounding against the Bulls has been his biggest concern all along. His No. 1
message to his players heading into Game 2: Get a body on the big fella — and anyone else in red who’s streaking to the glass — sooner, with more oomph and by any means necessary.
“You have to make hard initial contact on blockouts,” Stevens said. “You can’t just turn and look or get pushed under [the basket], because they’re going to get the ball. They’re bigger than we are. So we have to hit first.”
The Bulls tend to be as productive on the offensive glass as any team in the league. Sure, it helps that they’re especially adept at missing shots in the first place. But Lopez — though he doesn’t even rank among the top 50 rebounders in the NBA overall — has a special knack for creating those second chances. He was a top-10 offensive rebounder during the regular season.
“A lot of offensive rebounding is just kind of desire,” he said.
Lopez can go ahead and stow that “charm” in his locker for the rest of this series. The Bulls need him to remain a big bully.
The Celtics will be coming for him in Game 2.
“That’s something I’m aware of, and I’m sure they are as well,” he said. “But I know when I put that kind of pressure on the rim, it opens up things for my teammates. So that’s something I’m going to keep trying to do.”
If the Bulls — led by Lopez — can dominate the East’s top-seeded team inside, might they be able to steal this series? Would that come dangerously close to creating an identity for them that has nothing to do with unhappy stars and bumbling management?
That would be a strange new place, indeed.
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