Saturday, January 8, 2011 Updated: January 9, 1:34 PM ET
Celtics encounter The Dud
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
CHICAGO -- The thing about The Dud is that you rarely see it coming.
And while there were certainly red flags that the Boston Celtics might encounter the proverbial whammy as they trekked to Chicago for the second night of a back-to-back to wrap up a week that featured five games in seven nights, Saturday's offensive stink bomb at the United Center still seemed somewhat surprising.
Alas, The Dud is allergic to patterns and trends.
The Celtics, who shot a scorching 54.4 percent in four previous games this week, misfired 46 times while shooting a mere 37.8 percent Saturday. A team that generated 117 assists over the past four games settled for a season-low 12 dimes in Chicago. On a night when the ball seemed glued to people's hands, the Celtics endured a pair of head-slapping 24-second violations while their deficit was manageable.
Part of the Celtics' problem Saturday night was that Ray Allen didn't take a shot in the fourth quarter.
The end result? A 90-79 loss that snapped a four-game winning streak and provided the only blemish on an otherwise sterling effort in a Kevin Garnett-less week.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers would have loved to pin all the credit for his team's woes on Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, his former top assistant and the defensive architect in Boston's latest Big Three era.
Alas, the culprit was simpler: The Celtics endured The Dud.
"We were pretty awful," admitted Rivers. "Let's say it was the defense, let's give them the credit. But we were bad. That was the worst ball movement we've had all year. We had no ball movement. We basically bounced the life out of the game tonight.
"The bottom line is Ray Allen had zero shots in the fourth quarter, Paul [Pierce] had one and, when that happens, we really should not win the game. That was us."
Yes, incredibly, in a fourth quarter that opened as a one-possession game -- and it really shouldn't have been that close -- Allen and Pierce settled for one measly attempt (a 20-foot miss by Pierce with 6:56 to go) and one point (a free throw by Pierce with 2:11 remaining) combined.
"There is really no explanation about the way that we played," said Pierce.
Sure there is: The Dud. It's unavoidable over an 82-game season. Even the 72-win Bulls who once graced this very floor couldn't escape it. Some nights you just don't have it and, try as you might to spin the wheel of reasonable excuses, you just can't win them all. The Dud will get you.
Pierce detailed a few potential pitfalls, including giving up too many free throws, poor shot selection and lack of hustle.
"They wanted it more, truthfully," surmised Pierce.
There's some truth to that, Truth. Derrick Rose (who finished with 36 points) pretty much willed his team to victory in a third quarter in which he got to the charity stripe for 10 of his career-high 19 free throw attempts (blowing his previous mark of 13 out of the water). But the Bulls also missed a whopping 10 free throw attempts (out of the 35 they hoisted), trying desperately to keep things interesting until the final moments.
And, yes, the Bulls dominated the glass (though foul trouble with Boston's bigs didn't hurt that cause). Chicago finished with a 48-27 advantage in caroms and a lopsided 11-0 spread in second-chance points.
But if the Celtics were simply spent from playing six games in nine nights, Rivers wouldn't settle for that excuse.
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"I don't like saying that," said Rivers. "We got one more [game] in another day, so we just have to do better. It happens. You still want to win the game. The one thing I like about our team is that we usually find a way to win. We just didn't have it in us."
The Dud can be tough to overcome. Despite its anemic offense, including a bench that chipped in a mere 10 points on 2-of-10 shooting with no assists and eight fouls, Boston led late in the third quarter and seemed like it might be dud-resistant.
And the Bulls did their part, turning the ball over 21 times, but Boston couldn't quite capitalize (despite turning the ball over only 10 times itself). Seven of those turnovers came in the third quarter, a frame in which Chicago missed five free throws and generated just five field goals, yet Boston trimmed its four-point halftime deficit by a mere point.
"At halftime I said, 'Guys, it's a [four-]point game but we haven't invested much in this game," said Rivers. "It happens. You try to steal those games, but tonight we just couldn't."
Here's the silver lining to The Dud: There's little residual effect (maybe aside from the pain of film study and seeing all the mental lapses and lethargy for a second time). But the Celtics get a chance to put this one in the rearview mirror when the Houston Rockets visit on Monday.
"I don't worry," said Allen. "You see these types of games. It's a chance to teach. Tonight was a break from the normal and what we've been doing offensively. For whatever reason, this was an example of when we lose games, why we lose games."
Yes, The Dud is only a concern when it becomes a frequent occurrence, which eventually means it's not a dud at all. For one night, the Celtics can live with a clunker.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.