Lackluster starts continue to cost Bulls

BOSTON -- Carlos Boozer has only played in two games this year, but like anyone who has been watching the Bulls, he knows exactly what his team's biggest issue is.

"Our first and third [quarters] have been a problem for us all season, no matter who's been out there," he said. "The first quarter, we dig ourselves a hole. The third quarter, we dig ourselves a hole. And we've been fortunate some games, but the majority of games in the NBA, when you get behind to a very good team, you're not going to climb back too many times."

Such was the case yet again Friday night.

The Celtics cruised to an easy 104-92 victory over the Bulls because Boozer and company got blitzed at the beginning of each half.

How bad was it? The Celtics outscored the Bulls 60-38 in the first and third quarters combined. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has preached all season that he wants the Bulls to be a "48-minute team", but the problem is that they have consistently only played 24 minutes a game on full tilt throughout the early part of the season. The opponents, no matter who they may be, routinely come out with more energy to start each contest. It's a problem that the Bulls know they have to fix if they want to regain the momentum they gained on the "Circus Trip".

"We got to get back to playing defense," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Our defense isn't good right now. They were getting whatever they wanted. Our energy isn't good. We're not playing our best basketball. But we got to bounce back quick."

But how do you fix an energy problem? Especially to start games?

"We just have to keep working at it," Thibodeau said. "We have to study, keep making the necessary corrections. We got to play with more pace on offense, but again, a big part of that is the defense. They go hand in hand. When you're making them miss and you're rebounding well, and now you're getting Derrick [Rose] in the open floor, that's where you get your easy baskets. Everything is a grind right now because we're playing out of the halfcourt so much.

That was the prevailing thought around the locker room, as well. The key to playing with the type of energy and pace that Thibodeau constantly searches for starts on the defensive end.

"We want to be a defensive team and we know that defense is what's going to take us to the next level," Noah said. "We want to go out there and we want to play in transition. When they're shooting high percentages like that, and getting whatever they want, it's tough to get out on the break and play our pace. It's frustrating to lose the way we lost tonight. We got our asses kicked. Got to give credit where credit is due. They're a good team, they played very well."

The Celtics also dominated on the boards. For the second consecutive game, the Bulls were beaten on the glass, 44-34.

"We're not rebounding the ball very well," Noah said. "I think I have to do a better job with the energy. I feel like I've been flat the last couple games and could never really get into a rhythm. As a team, I think everybody is playing for the right reasons. We're just not playing good basketball."

No, they aren't.

Thibodeau and his players can continually talk about improving and coming into games with more energy, but as they learned over the last two games, talk is cheap against elite level teams.

For the time being, the Bulls are not one of them.