Chicago Bulls (2-2) at Boston Celtics (2-2)
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
8:30 PM ET
Playoff Game #5, Home Game #3
TV: TNT, CSNNE, CSCHI
Radio: 98.5 Sports Hub, WLUP FM97.9
Referees: Danny Crawford, Sean Corbin, Ed Malloy
The most unpredictable series in the first round continues as the Celtics return home to host the Bulls for a pivotal game 5. The road team has won each game in the series so far with the Bulls winning the first two games in Boston and the Celtics winning games 3 and 4 in Chicago. The last time the first 4 games were won by the road teams in a playoff series was way back in 2005 between the Mavericks and Rockets.
There are several factors that have gone into the series beginning this way. First, Isaiah Thomas' sister was killed the day before game 1 and the entire team was in shock. Isaiah played but he wasn't himself and his teammates were unable to break out of a dark cloud that enveloped the team. The Bulls dominated the subdued Celtics in games 1 and 2 in Boston.
Then Isaiah had a chance to go home and be with his family for a couple of days after game 2. He came back with a renewed spirit and Kevin Garnett sent an inspirational message and a much lighter and more energetic Celtics team took the court in Games 3 and 4. The Celtics were finally playing like the Celtics.
At the same time, Rajon Rondo, who led the Bulls with a big game 2, was ruled out of the series indefinitely with a fractured thumb. Some would say that it was his absence that allowed the Celtics to win games 3 and 4 but I believe it was more a factor of the Celtics returning to playing like themselves instead of going through the game in a fog of grief.
We may get to test that theory in that Rondo already has his cast off and was able to practice on Tuesday. Bulls coach, Fred Hoiberg, ruled Rondo out for Game 5 but there's a good possibility that he may return for a Game 6 or 7, if necessary. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised to see them announce just before Game 5 that Rondo will make a surprise return for this game, even though he, himself said that he won't play in game 5. In the meantime, Isaiah Canaan is expected to start at point guard on Wednesday if Rondo is actually out.
We all know that Rondo can play in a lot of pain. He played an entire quarter with a torn ACL while most players writhe on the floor after tearing an ACL. He also came back and played the 4th quarter after Dwyane Wade dislocated his elbow. So, playing with a fractured finger wouldn't be a bit out of character for him. Jaylen Brown was unable to practice on Tuesday due to an illness. He is questionable for this game.
Probable Starting Matchups
Isaiah Thomas vs Isaiah Canaan
Avery Bradley vs Dwyane Wade
Jae Crowder vs Jimmy Butler
Gerald Green vs Nikola Mirotic
Al Horford vs Robin Lopez
Jaylen Brown (illness) questionable
Rajon Rondo (thumb) out
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. He is averaging 24.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.8 blocks per game in the playoffs. 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. Butler is shooting 40% from the field and 43% from beyond the arc in the playoffs so far.
Isaiah Thomas vs Isaiah Canaan
Isaiah is key to the Celtics fortunes. As Isaiah goes, so go the Celtics. Isaiah came back somewhat refreshed and renewed before Game 3 after being able to spend time with his family. He led his team to two straight victories. He has a bit more motivation for this game after Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg accused him of carrying every time he dribbles. Of course Hoiberg didn't mention that Wade, Butler and just about every other player dribbles exactly the same way as Isaiah. Canaan came into Game 4 and played fairly well and without Rondo, they are hoping that he will be able to keep them from getting off to another slow start.
Al Horford vs Robin Lopez
Robin Lopez was a problem for the Celtics in Games 1 and 2. He was a beast on the boards and was able to score on put backs for the Bulls throughout those two Bulls wins. With Isaiah back to himself and the team playing Celtics basketball, Al was able to limit him in games 3 and 4. Hopefully Al can continue to box him out and keep him further away from the basket to limit Lopez' effectiveness. Lopez is averaging 13.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Horford has been playing very well and he needs to continue to play well and dominate this matchup.
Keys to the Game
Defense - The Celtics' defense was very lax in games 1 and 2 and the Bulls toook advantage. The Celtics found their defensive intensity in game 3 and 4 and they won those games behind that tough defense. The Celtics need to keep that defense first mindset and continue to make things difficult for the Bulls. 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.
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 picked right back up in the playoffs and had a 97-64 rebounding edge in the first two games. The Celtics were out-rebounded 52-37 in game 3 but were able to win on the strength of some hot 3 point shooting. However, in game 4, the Celtics were only out-rebounded 44-42. 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. Hopefully the Celtics can once again keep the rebounding gap close in this one.
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. The Bulls out worked them in Games 1 and 2 and were the more aggressive team. The Celtics turned that around and played harder in games 3 and 4. They have to continue to be the more aggressive team and to be the team that plays harder. This is most important because I think the biggest difference between the first two games and the last two games was the aggressiveness of the Celtics, not the absence of Rondo.
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 Celtics depend on 3 pointers but if those 3's aren't falling, they have to take the ball inside and not continue to shoot them from outside. Most importantly, the Celtics need to get scoring from the bench and from the other starters because Isaiah can't do it all himself. The Celtics have put up 56 assists in their last two games. The Bulls are a good defensive team and the best way to beat a good defensive team is by moving the ball faster than the defenders can move. They need to continue this trend if they want to continue winning in the series.
Stay Focused on Basketball - Chyna Thomas' funeral is on Saturday and you couldn't blame Isaiah if he had that on his mind at this time. Hopefully he can somehow once again put that behind him for just a few hours as he and the team concentrate on playing Celtics basketball. Perhaps they should play KG's message to them once again to get them pumped up and in a lighter mood to play this game.
Rondo Surprise? - Rondo has said that he is not going to play in this game but I don't trust him. We know that Rondo can play through pain, but how effective can he be with a fractured thumb on his shooting hand. If he plays, the Celtics should try to put him on the line as much as possible rather than let him finish inside with layups. Rondo is a poor free throw shooter at best, but with the injured thumb, I can see him struggling even more. Also, they should pressure him and make his passes more difficult. He won't be near as effective as he was when last they saw him in game 2. Personally I think Rondo would be best to sit out. When last we saw him, he was dominant and that would bode well for getting signed for next season. He can't possibly play better and there's a good chance he will play worse and that can only hurt his case for a bigger contract this summer. But, putting out the indication that he is willing to try to play through the injury is also good for his image.
Home Game - Usually, playing at home would be a big advantage - that's why they work to get home court advantage in the playoffs. But in this series, it has been anything but. The Celtics have 2 games on their home court and just one in Chicago left in the series. The Celtics have to come out focused and use the home crowd to give them a boost. The Bulls were just 16-25 on the road in the regular season while the Celtics were 30-11 at home. The Celtics have to make home court an advantage once again in this series and the home crowd has to make it as loud and hostile as they can in the Garden.
Motivation - The Bulls have been giving the Celtics extra motivation, as if they needed more than simply winning in the playoffs. Fred Hoiberg said that Isaiah was only tough to guard because he was allowed to carry the basketball on every dribble. Jimmy Butler said that Marcus Smart is an actor and fake tough guy. The Celtics need to take those things to heart and use them to come out even more pumped to play hard and get a win.
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. It will be interesting to see if the refs start calling more carries after Hoiberg's comments after game 4. It would be a fun change of pace to see Wade and Butler called for carries just to reward Hoiberg for his whining. Hopefully they call the game fairly in this one and let them play.
Danny Crawford has been fairly decent in calling games for the Celtics for the most part. He was voted the best referee in the league in the 2016 survey of players and coaches by the LA Times.