In a somewhat surprising 1/8 seed matchup, the Boston Celtics will take on the Chicago Bulls starting this Sunday in round 1 of the NBA Playoffs. Both teams know that they have alot of work to do in order to get to the next round as this will not be the traditional 1/8 seed wash that most fans are used to seeing.
How They Got Here
The Boston Celtics have rallied behind the supurb play of MVP candidate Isaiah Thomas (29.1 ppg 5.9 apg 2.7 rpg). They dont lack at the offensive end. Their 108 points per game places them 7th in the league for the season. The Celtics have also stepped up defensively since the all-star break. Their defensive rating is 13th in the league at 108.4 and they will have to continue to lock in on that end of the floor if they will handle business vs. the inconsistent Bulls. Thomas has his shortcomings on defense due to his size but is surrounded by rough riders on defense. Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford all help to shoulder the load which leaves the super talented Thomas free to wreck havoc on offense.
The Chicago Bulls have had an up and down season that ended with a playoff birth granted on the last day of the season. It was a long year filled with locker room turmoil, trade rumors, starting lineup changes, and just an overall lack of identity by the representitives of the Windy City. The pairing of Dwayne Wade, Jimmy Butler, and Rajon Rondo was met with alot of skepticism and rightly so. However as of lately the annual emergence of Nikola Mirotic along with some steady play from their veteran leaders have the Bulls looking dangerous at the right time. As usual the Bulls are reliant on their rebounding and defense (6th in defensive rating and opp. points per game). The Bulls play tough physical defense and look to pound the opponent particularly on the offensive boards. There’s the question of how they will fare with the recent departure of Taj Gibson to OKC.
The Season Series
The Bulls-Celtics series is the second tightest playoff series in terms of point margin (2.2). The only tighter series is the coin flip of the Clippers/Jazz series. Rightfully so, the series during the regular season was an even 2-2 split with the teams both taking their home games. The key stat to watch here will be rebounding. In the two victories against the Celtics, the Bulls pounded them with a 40 to 9 advantage in second chance points. This is a pairing of the 27th ranked defensive rebounding team vs the leagues 4th ranked offensive team. This difference is the main reason that the playoff series will be a tough one for both teams. The Bulls are near the bottom of the league in offensive scoring (23rd) so rebounding leading to easy second-chance points will be critical.
The Bulls have arguably the best player in the series. Despite season-long trade rumors and riffs with teammates and management Jimmy Butler is one of the best two-way players in the league and is a load to deal with on a game to game basis. Dwayne Wade averaged 21.4 ppg in last year’s playoffs with a tidy 12-23 mark from the 3 point line for the Miami Heat in their first-round series. If The Flash can turn back the clock again the Bulls can give the Celtics a run.
Isaiah Thomas has been sensational all year long and is a top clutch performer in the league on all accounts. Avery Bradley and Al Horford aren’t as heralded as the Bulls trio but they can more than handle their own. Horford has the ability to pound the boards though he will need to exceed his 7 rpg mark against Chicago to provide an edge. Bradley is a defensive specialist and has the ability to stretch the defense with the 3 as does Horford. Taking the Bulls away from the basket will be key for opening up the lanes for Thomas and winning the rebound battle. Thomas’s scoring dropped slightly against the bulls this season but he was still incredibly effective going for 24.8 ppg on 54% shooting. As long as he’s going strong the Celtics will be a force.
The series will not be quick. The Celtics are a complete team with the more effective offense and that should win them the series in 6 games. The Bulls have much more playoff experience as a whole but struggle with perimeter shooting which is imperative in today’s NBA. Their rebounding and defense will keep them in it but Isaiah Thomas is one of the game’s best clutch performers and I expect him to have a huge series at the expense of Chicago. Taj Gibson’s absence has affected the advantage on the boards for Chicago and I expect that to be the deciding factor.
Game 1 is Sunday at 6:30 EST on TNT. Check back with us for Game 1 coverage.