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Celtics visit Bulls with a chance to close out the series in Game 6

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The Celtics are on the road for Game 6 with a chance to close out the Bulls and move on to the second round for the first time in the Brad Stevens era.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

at
Boston Celtics (3-2) at Chicago Bulls (2-3)
Friday, April 28, 2017
8:00 PM ET
Playoff Game #6, Road Game #3
TV: ESPN, CSNNE, CSN-CHI
Radio: 98.5 Sports Hub, WLUP FM97.9
United Center

Referees: Mike Callahan, Bill Kennedy, James Williams

The Celtics are on the road for Game 6 with a chance to close out the Bulls and move on to the second round for the first time in the Brad Stevens era if they can get their third straight road victory. They were able to even the series with two wins in Chicago in Games 3 and 4. Close out games are always the toughest and so the Celtics will need to play their very best if they want to get yet another win on the road.

Although Gerald Green played just 12 minutes in game 5, Brad Stevens is expected to start him once again in this game. He came up big for the Celtics in Game 4 and may again. The Bulls got off to a much better start with Isaiah Canaan in the starting lineup for Game 5 and so will more than likely stick with the same starters in Game 6.

The Bulls have said that Rondo will be out for this game but when Fred Hoiberg announced it, he said he wasn't playing as of that time. So, he seems to be leaving the door open in case Rondo decides at the last minute to suit up and play in Game 6. But as of now, Rajon Rondo is out.

If I was Rondo, I wouldn't chance coming back. I'm sure he sees that the Celtics have been playing much better than they did in Games 1 and 2 and his return may not make any difference, especially if he struggles with handling and shooting the ball because of the injury. As of now, his stock is about as high as it can get and he should just keep it that way going into free agency instead of taking a chance on coming back and falling flat.

Along with Rondo being out, Jimmy Butler is reportedly playing with a sore knee. Wade announced after Game 5 that he would play point guard in this game and if he was serious about that, he really needs to conserve his energy. If that is true, Wade may bring the ball up and Isaiah Canaan's job will be to try to slow down IT.

The Celtics got into Chicago on Thursday and went directly to the United Center to get in a practice. The Bulls did not practice on Thursday. You would think that the home team facing elimination would be the one to try to get in an extra practice and the team on the road would more than likely go to the hotel to rest. However, it was just the opposite. Let's hope that the Celtics come into this game focused and extra sharp from their practice.

Point Guard
vs
Isaiah Thomas vs Isaiah Canaan

Shooting Guard

vs
Avery Bradley vs Dwyane Wade

Small Forward
vs
Jae Crowder vs Jimmy Butler

Power Forward
vs
Gerald Green vs Nikola Mirotic

Center
vs
Al Horford vs Robin Lopez

Reserves
Amir Johnson
Demetrius Jackson
Jonas Jerebko
Jordan Mickey
Terry Rozier
Tyler Zeller
Kelly Olynyk
Marcus Smart
James Young
Jaylen Brown

Injuries
None listed

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Reserves
Jerian Grant
Michael Carter-Williams
Christiano Felicio
Joffrey Lauvergne
Bobby Portis
Denzel Valentine
Paul Zipser
Cameron Payne

Injuries
Rajon Rondo (thumb) probably out

Head Coach

Fred Hoiberg

Key Matchups
vs
Jae Crowder vs Jimmy Butler
Butler is averaging 22.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 1.4 steals per game in the playoffs. Avery Bradley had the job of guarding Butler in game 5 and pretty much kept him in check and allowing him to score just 14 points. There are rumors that he is playing with a sore knee and so that may also be a factor in his reduced production.

vs
Isaiah Thomas vs Isaiah Canaan
Isaiah is key to the Celtics fortunes. As Isaiah goes, so go the Celtics. Isaiah came back refreshed and renewed before Game 3 and led his team to two straight victories. Canaan was matched with IT in game 5 and did make it more difficult for him, however, IT was able to take over in the 4th quarter to lead the Celtics to victory. IT struggled with his shot in game 5, hitting just 1 of 10 from beyond the arc. Hopefully he can get his shot back on track in this one.

Honorable Mention
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, 4, and 5. 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 and had a hot streak in game 5 but was unable to score in the 4th quarter when the Celtics put the game away. Horford has been playing very well and he needs to continue to play well and dominate this matchup.

Avery Bradley vs Dwyane Wade
Wade started Game 3 strong but struggled down the stretch. The key to containing Wade is to make him run constantly during the game and wear him out. In game 5, Wade had close to a triple double but didn't work very hard on defense. There is always a chance that Playoff Wade shows up but if the Celtics make him run and then defend him well, they may be able to keep him from having an impact. He is averaging 17.6 points, 5.4 rebounds an 4.2 assists for the series.

Keys to the Game
Defense - The Celtics have been working hard on the defensive end with just a few lapses. It has been defense that has helped the Celtics to win 3 straight games. The Celtics won Game 3 with their defense, holding the Bulls to just 87 points. In game 5, they forced 16 turnovers and Avery played lock down defense on Jimmy Butler. 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 need another game where they play tough in your face defense.

Rebound - The Bulls out-rebounded the Celtics in Games 1 and 2 with a 97-64 rebounding edge. 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 games 4 and 5, the Celtics were only out-rebounded by 4 rebounds per game. 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 were the more aggressive team in Game 3 and 4 and it resulted in 2 road wins. 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 need to heed the words of Kevin Garnett who told them that the Celtics always have to be the hardest working team on the court every time.

Ball Movement - The Celtics ball movement has been phenomenal in the past 3 games. They brought the ball up the court quickly and shared the ball, making the extra pass to find the open man. The Celtics have to continue to move the ball and find the open man for the best shot and they need to continue to take care of the ball and limit turnovers by avoiding sloppy passes and careless ball handling. They had only 6 turnovers in game 5 and they need to play with that same focus in this game.

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. They need to close this series out with this game so that he won't have to rush back for a Sunday game 7.

Hit Open Shots - The Celtics struggled to hit shots in game 5, hitting just 22% from beyond the arc as a team. That may have been a lack of focus because many of the shots were wide open. They have to focus on taking good shots and on making them. If the 3's aren't falling, they need to do what they did in game 5 and take the ball inside. They don't want to shoot themselves out of the game by continuing to shoot bricks from the outside.

Team Play - The Celtics won 3 straight games mostly because every player on the court was playing hard, crashing the boards and hitting their shots. They have to do the same thing in this game if they want to win. Every player has to be playing their hardest. Every player has to crash the boards. Every player has to move the ball and find the open man. Every player must defend as if their lives depended on it. Every player has to stay focused and take good shots and make them. If they do all this, they will come out on top once again.

X-Factors
Underdogs On the Road- This Celtics team is at its best when they have been disrespected underdogs. They haven't done well as the favorite. They may be up in the series, but they have to play with a chip on their shoulder and play like their backs are against the wall. They have played well on the road, with the hostile crowds seemingly pushing them to play their best. Hopefully they can continue winning with their us against the world mindset. They need to give it their all to get this win so that IT can go back home and not have to rush back for a Sunday Game 7.

Live by the 3, Die by the 3 - The Celtics take a lot of 3's in the game. They made 17 3's in Game 3. They have to keep their focus and take good shots and make their 3's when they take them. If the 3's aren't falling as they didn't in game 5, they have to take it inside. Hopefully they can stay focused and the 3's will fall once again in this game. The Celtics' shots haven't been falling in the past couple of games and so hopefully the law of averages takes over and they hit everything in this game.

Rondo Surprise? - I wouldn't be surprised to see Rondo return, fractured thumb and all, even though the Bulls have said that he will be out. 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. However, just his presence may give the Bulls a burst of confidence and make it more difficult for the Celtics.

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. So far in the series, the officiating has been pretty good and they have mostly let them play, however if you read the Bulls boards, you would think that the Celtics were getting every single call. Hopefully they call this game fairly and let them play.

Mike Callahan has been a decent ref in recent games for the Celtics. Both teams are 7-3 in their last 10 games with Callahan calling the game. His home game W/L record is 37-26. In the playoffs, his home win percentage is 33%.