Boston Celtics (0-2) at Chicago Bulls (2-0)
Friday, April 21, 1917
7:00 PM ET
Playoff Game #3, Road Game #1
TV: ESPN, CSNNE, CSN-CHI
Radio: 98.5 Sports Hub, WLUP FM97.9
Referees: Monty McCutchen, Brian Forte, Bill Spooner
The Celtics visit the Chicago Bulls down 0-2 in the series and desperately needing a win in this series. During the regular season, the Bulls were 25-16 at home and so winning won't be all that easy there. However, the Celtics were 23-18 on the road and so have played fairly well on the road this season.
Teams that have lost the first 2 games at home are 3-28. But 3-28 should be familiar to Boston fans.
The Celtics should draw inspiration that if the Patriots could come back from a 3-28 deficit then they can overcome the odds and come back from being down 0-2 in this series.
Isaiah Thomas returned home to Washington to be with his family after Tuesday's game and has joined his teammates in Chicago for this game. Brad Stevens has hinted that he may change up the lineups but didn't give any indication as to what he had in mind. Last year in the playoffs he inserted Jonas Jerebko in the starting lineup in place of Amir Johnson and it resulted in winning the next two games.
Adding Jonas Jerebko to the starting lineup seems to be the most logical change, if any change is made. Jerebko is a solid outside shooter and a versatile defender, and adding him to the starting lineup would bolster the offense as well as giving them a boost of energy. He has played a total of just 3:59 in this series so far. Another thought might be inserting Jaylen Brown at the 3 and sliding Jae to the 4. There is no word yet on if there will be any changes.
The Celtics have no injuries reported. With the loss in the D-League playoffs, both Demetrius Jackson and Jordan Mickey are back with the Celtics, although I don't expect either to see any playing time in this series. For the Bulls, head coach Fred Hoiberg announced that Rajon Rondo fractured his thumb in game 2 and played the rest of the game with it. He is listed as out indefinitely with an initial estimate of 7-10 days.
Probable Starting Matchups
Isaiah Thomas vs Jerian Grant
Avery Bradley vs Dwyane Wade
Jae Crowder vs Jimmy Butler
Amir Johnson vs Nikola Mirotic
Al Horford vs Robin Lopez
Rajon Rondo (thumb) out
Isaiah Thomas vs Jerian Grant
Isaiah is a key for the Celtics. Hopefully he has been able to clear his head a bit by going to visit his family. Rondo's absence is huge for the Celtics. He was the straw that stirred the drink for the Bulls so to speak. He was a force on the boards and had a hand in most of the Bulls points whether by assist or by scoring. He was also the focal point of their defense. Grant has been told that he is starting in place of Rondo. Grant is averaging 3 points, 1 rebound, and 2 assists. He is shooting 16.7% from the field. If Isaiah is able to focus on the game this could be a big mismatch for the Celtics.
Jae Crowder vs Jimmy Butler
Butler is averaging 26 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks in this series so far. Since the All Star break, Butler has averaged 43.8% from beyond the arc. 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. Jae has had some success in guarding Butler in the past and for the Celtics to win, he is going to have to limit him in this game as well.
Al Horford vs Robin Lopez
Robin Lopez has been a problem for the Celtics in both games so far in this series. He has been a beast on the boards and was able to score on put backs for the Bulls throughout the 2 games so far. He is averaging 16 points and 9 rebounds for the series. Al has to box him out and keep him away from the basket. Limiting Lopez' touches around the basket is going to be key.
Keys to the Game
Defense - The Celtics' defense has been up and down. They have allowed easy baskets at times and at other times played good defense for a spurt. They have to do a better job of locking them down and defend both inside and out. They especially need to keep them off the boards as the Bulls have been averaging 22.5 2nd chance points. 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 in the regular season. They picked right back up in Game 1 with a 53-36 rebounding edge. The Celtics did a bit better in Game 2 closing the gap to 6 fewer rebounds. 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. Every Celtics player must crash the boards and work extra hard to beat the Bulls to rebounds.
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. Rondo told his bench that the Celtics gave up in game 2 and that should be motivation for the Celtics to play their hardest from start to finish. The Celtics have to be the team that is more aggressive and that plays harder for all 48 minutes in this game.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics have got to take care of the basketball. They had 16 turnovers in Game 2 and that is too many. They have to make sharper passes and be aware when dribbling to avoid losing the ball. They have to move the ball to find the open man, but make careful passes to avoid turning it over.
Focus - There has been a shadow over the Celtics locker room since the death of Isaiah's sister the day before Game 1. It has affected every player on the team. The Celtics, who usually shoot 81% as a team from the free throw line shot only 66% from the line in Game 2. They also made only 16 of 41 (39%) uncontested shots in game 2. Perhaps the two days off since the last game and Isaiah's time at home will help them to come into this game more focused on playing the game the right way. Hopefully the absence of Rondo doesn't lead them to relax and take the Bulls for granted. I don't think that would happen with their backs against the wall, but you never know.
Underdogs On the Road- This Celtics team has sometimes been at its best when they have been disrespected underdogs. They haven't done well as the favorite. So maybe with the series down 2 and everyone counting them out, they will snap back and play better. Also, they have played well on the road, with the hostile crowds seemingly pushing them to play their best. Hopefully they can get back to winning as the underdogs in a hostile building.
Rondo and IT- Rondo's absence is big for the Celtics. With Rondo on the court, the Bulls have a net rating of +14.5 and with Rondo off the court, they have a net rating of -5.4. However, they can't let the fact that he is out affect their effort and focus as they have at times when facing teams at less than 100%. Isaiah has had time to be with family and hopefully that will allow him to focus on the game and not on his grief. The Celtics need Isaiah as close to 100% as he can be.
Attitude and Pride - The Celtics must find a way to restore their spirits after 2 tough losses. Rajon Rondo was heard telling his teammates that the Celtics had given up down the stretch of game 2 and, perhaps they had. Avery talked his teammates were hanging their heads, as the Bulls answered every Celtics' run. Isaiah Thomas shouted at Marcus Smart for making the wrong play. Smart hung his head. They have to bounce back and get that chip back on their shoulders. They have to reach deep and bring out that Celtics pride and come into this game certain that they can get a win.
Tom Brady Factor - Tom Brady, who orchestrated the Patriots' comeback from 3-28 in the Super Bowl that is referenced above, sent Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics a message of encouragement on Instagram. With Tom Brady behind you, can you do any less than give it your all?
ESPN Game - The Bulls have won their last 21 home games televised on TNT. Who knows what forces go into keeping that record alive. In the game they beat the Celtics on TNT, it came down to a phantom foul call on Marcus Smart to give the Bulls free throws and a one point win. This game, however, is on ESPN and so that particular force shouldn't be in effect in this game.
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. Hopefully they call the game fairly in this one and let them play.