Chicago Bulls (0-0) at Boston Celtics (0-0)
Sunday, April 16, 2017
6:30 PM ET
Playoff Game #1, Home Game #1
TV: TNT, CSNNE, CSCHI
Radio: 98.5 Sports Hub, WLUP FM97
Referees: Mike Callahan, Kane Fitzgerald, David Guthrie
The Celtics host Rajon Rondo and the 8th seeded Chicago Bulls to begin their playoff run. These two teams tied the season series 2-2. The predictions for this series vary greatly. Some feel that the Bulls have the best chance of upsetting the Celtics in the first round while others feel that the Celtics will close it out in 5 games.
The Celtics for their part are using all the doubters and all those who are calling the Celtics the worst 1st seed in playoff history as motivation to play even harder in this series. They have not made it past the first round in the past two seasons and very much want to go deep into the playoffs this season.
The Celtics won 17 of their last 20 home games and so home court may be very important. The Bulls were 16-25 on the road while the Celtics were 30-11 at the Garden. In the series this season, each team won on their home court. However, the fact that the game is on TNT may be even more important. Chicago won their last 20 games aired on TNT. This includes a game that they won against the Celtics that came down to a very questionable foul on Marcus Smart with 0.9 seconds left that gave the Bulls a 1 point win.
Both teams are healthy with no injuries listed for either team. Rondo and Wade are both coming off of injuries but are well enough to play in this game. In fact, Wade's injury kept him on the sidelines for 3 weeks and so he should be well rested for this series. According to CSN, Isaiah Thomas will be playing in spite of the fact that his sister, Chyna, was killed in an auto accident on Saturday morning.
Isaiah Thomas vs Rajon Rondo
Avery Bradley vs Dwyane Wade
Jae Crowder vs Jimmy Butler
Amir Johnson vs Nikola Mirotic
Al Horford vs Robin Lopez
Jae Crowder vs Jimmy Butler
Butler averaged 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 1.9 steals per game in the regular season. These two players are former Marquette teammates and good friends off the court but on the court, they are very competitive opponents. Butler averaged 20.3 points against the Celtics this season. Since the All Star break, Butler has averaged 43.8% from beyond the arc. Jae has had some success in guarding Butler this season. With Jae on the court, Butler has a -9.3 net rating but with Jae off the court, Butler's net rating is +6.6.
Avery Bradley vs Dwyane Wade
Wade tends to up his game in the playoffs and so Avery needs to up his defense on him as well. Wade averaged 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.4 steals in the regular season. Wade sat out much of the final 3 weeks of the season with an elbow injury but came back just in time to be well rested and ready for the playoffs. Avery will have his hands bull but has proved in the past that he is up to it.
Isaiah Thomas vs Rajon Rondo
This may actually be the most important match up for the Celtics. We all have seen the phenomenon known as "National TV Rondo." Rondo has not been known as a scorer, but since the All Star break, he has been shooting 46.3% from beyond the arc and on national TV, he will be sure to play his best. It will be on Isaiah to step up his defense and keep Rondo from having a big offensive game. The Celtics need Isaiah to step up on offense as well and continue his dominant play from the regular season but Jimmy Butler has already said that he wants the task of guarding Isaiah and so that will make it more difficult for Isaiah to get open. He will need to make good decisions and make the right plays when he is unable to get his shots off. Isaiah will be playing with a heavy heart, however, after the death of his sister on Saturday morning.
Keys to the Game
Defense - The Celtics have some very good defenders and could have one of the top defensive teams in the league, however, for much of the season they have not played very good defense. We saw them lock down the Golden State Warriors, who have the highest scoring offense in the league but then struggle to contain the Nuggets and the Suns. The Bulls finished the season 6th in the league with a defensive rating of 104.5. The Celtics finished the season 12th with a defensive rating of 105.5. Each player needs to make defense a priority and be sure to have each others' backs on team defense. When the Celtics lock down on defense, they are very tough to beat. They must make defense a priority.
Rebound - The Bulls are a very good rebounding team. They out-rebounded the Celtics by 39 rebounds in their 2 wins against the Celtics this season. They also outscored the Celtics 40-9 in 2nd chance points in those two wins against the Celtics. The Bulls were 4th best offensive rebounding team before the trade deadline but after trading Taj Gibson, they dropped to 17th. This should give the Celtics a bit of hope. Much of rebounding is effort and desire and so the Celtics must put out the extra effort on the boards to give themselves extra possessions as well as to limit the Bulls fast break opportunities and second chance points.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be aggressive on both ends of the court. They have to be the more aggressive team going for loose balls, on defense, on the boards, and in going to the hoop. They have to start the game strong and keep playing hard until the final buzzer. They have to be the team that is more aggressive and that plays harder for all 48 minutes.
Be Smart on Offense - The Celtics need to move the ball to find the open man for easier shots. They have to take open shots when they get them and not be too unselfish. The Bulls are 6th in the league in defending the 3point line and allow just 9.0 per game and so if their 3's aren't falling, the Celtics need to take the ball inside. The other Celtics must make their shots because Isaiah can't do it all himself.
Home Court- The Celtics worked to get home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. They have played well at home this season with a 30-11 record and they won 17 of their last 20 home games. The Celtics need to draw energy from the home crowd that should be wild and loud.
IT - According to Ernie Johnson of TNT, Isaiah play in this game in spite of the loss of his sister. However, he will be playing with a very heavy heart after the death of his younger sister on Saturday. As others have, in the face of grief and tragedy, Isaiah may dedicate this to his sister. ON the other hand, the grief may be too much and he will be unable to focus on the game. Either way, Boston is behind "the Little Guy" and our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family in this very tough time. Sometimes there are just bigger things than the game.
Motivation - There have been a lot of people doubting the Celtics. They have been called the worst #1 seed in NBA history. ESPN gives the Bulls a 29% chance of pulling off an upset, the highest of any matchup in the playoffs. The Celtics have to use that as motivation and play their best, especially on the defensive end. They need to have the "us against the world" mentality to give them a mental boost and keep them focused.
TNT Bulls - The Bulls have won their last 20 games on TNT and this series just happens to be on TNT. One of those 20 wins was against the Celtics when, with 0.9 seconds left and the Celtics ahead by 1, the refs called a phantom foul on Marcus Smart to give the Bulls the win. I'm not sure what forces are conspiring to give them a boost in TNT games, but the Celtics have to play extra well to counter them, whatever they may be.
Officiating - Officiating will always be an x-factor. Some crews call every little bit of contact that takes the flow out of the game. Some crews let them play. Some refs have an agenda against a team, a coach or a player. All of these things can alter the way a game is played and the ability of a team to play well. As I have stated above, the referees made a controversial call on the last play in a game between these two teams that robbed the Celtics of the win and handed it to the Bulls. Hopefully they call the game fairly in this one and let them play. The lead official, Mick Callahan, has been a decent ref for the most part over the years so hopefully he will call this one fairly.