The Celtics head down the stretch with a home game against the Chicago Bulls. This is the 4th and final game against the Bulls this season. The Celtics are 2-1 in the series so far. The Bulls won the first game 108-85 this season on December 11 in Chicago. Marcus Smart started that game at the point with Kyrie out. Mirotic scored 24 points, Portis added a career-high 23.
The Celtics won the second game 117-92 on December 23 in Boston. Portis and Mirotic once again led the way for the Bulls. The Celtics won the 3rd game 105-89 on March 5 in Chicago. Mirotic was no longer with the team and the Bulls were led by Denzel Valentine with 20 points on the bench.
The Celtics have lost their last 2 games. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and 25-13 at home. They remain in 2nd place in the East, 3 games behind the Raptors and 4.5 ahead of the Cavaliers. The Bulls have won 3 straight and are 3-7 in their last 10 games. They are 10-29 on the road. They are 11th in the East, 15 games out of the playoffs and 5.5 games ahead of Atlanta for last place.
The Bulls actually have more injuries than the Celtics. Antonio Blakeney (wrist), Kris Dunn (toe), Zach LaVine (patella), Denzel Valentine (knee) and Paul Zipser (foot) are all listed as out. Noah Vonleh left Tuesday’s game with a strained calf and is questionable for this game. He will be a game time decision.
Robin Lopez missed Tuesday’s game for rest and may or may not play in this game since they almost shut him down for the season once just before Adam Silver started to cut down on tanking. Christiano Felicio will likely start at center if they indeed shut Lopez down for the season. The Bulls have signed Jarell Eddie, who played for the Celtics on a 10 day contract and also Sean Kilpatrick, who almost signed with the Celtics before the Bulls made him a better offer.
For the Celtics, Marcus Smart (thumb), Kyrie Irving (knee), Daniel Theis (knee), and Gordon Hayward (ankle) are all still out as expected. Terry Rozier returned to the lineup for Wednesday’s game and isn’t on the injury list so far. Shane Larkin missed both games on the road trip with an illness and is expected to play. Jayson Tatum and Al Horford are listed out for this game for rest.
The Celtics reportedly signed Jonathan Gibson for the rest of the season. I’m not sure if he will be available for this game. Gibson played in the Chinese Basketball Association this season, averaging 33.7 points. Xavier Silas had been on a 10 day contract and I believe that he was let go to bring in Gibson since the team is already at the limit.
Probable Celtics Starters
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Daniel Theis (knee) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) out
Marcus Smart (thumb) out
Al Horford (rest) out
Jayson Tatum (rest) out
Two Way Players
Probable Bulls Starters
Antonio Blakeney (wrist) out
Kris Dunn (toe) out
Zach LaVine (patella) out
Denzel Valentine (knee) out
Paul Zipser (foot) out
Noah Vonleh (calf) out
Robin Lopez (rest) game time decision
Two Way Players
Guerschon Yabusele vs Lauri Markkanen
Markkanen is averaging 15.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists. He is shooting 35.7% from beyond the arc. He is a good young player who has been a bright spot for the Bulls this season. I’m just guessing that Yabusele will start here because he has started in place of Al before but Brad may choose someone else as a better matchup.
Marcus Morris vs Justin Holiday
Holiday is averaging 12.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.09 steals. He is shooting 36.8% from beyond the arc and so Morris will need to stick with him on the perimeter. Again I’m just guessing that Morris will fill in for Tatum.
Semi Ojeleye vs Bobby Portis
Portis has played very well against the Celtics so far this season. He had 23 points in the first game and 17 points and 8 rebounds in the second game, starting both games. He is averaging 13.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.7 assists for the season. Portis is now coming off the bench but is still a threat to score for the Bulls. Again, a guess that Ojeleye will match up with him because there just aren’t that many bench players left.
Keys to the Game
Rebound - The Celtics must box out and crash the boards. They can’t score without the ball and it will take extra effort on their part to grab the rebounds. The Celtics are grabbing 44.3 rebounds per game while the Bulls are averaging 44.8 rebounds per game, good for 6th in the league. The Celtics were out-rebounded by the Raptors and they need to work harder to keep the same thing from happening in this game.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be aggressive on defense, in going after loose balls, in rebounding, and just all around going all out. They have to aggressively attack the basket. They need to start the game with that aggressive attitude and be aggressive through the whole game with no let up. They can’t let the Bulls outwork them, or they may end up with a loss.
Play Defense - Defense wins games. The Celtics are tops in the league with a defensive rating of 101.4. The Bulls have a defensive rating of 108.8. The Celtics need to continue to make defense a priority and they need a strong defensive effort from every player.
Move the Ball Carefully - The Celtics need to move the ball and find the open man. When they move the ball, good things usually happen. When the ball stops and players try to do too much, the offense bogs down and the Celtics have trouble scoring. But they also have to be carefull with their passes. They got sloppy against the Raptors, turning the ball over 18 times and it’s difficult to win when you give the opponent that many extra possessions.
Home Game - The Celtics are back home and should get motivation from the home crowd. The Bulls are just 10-29 on the road and are a young team. Young teams often can get rattled on the road and hopefully the Garden crowd will be loud and give the home team a boost and rattle the young Bulls at the same time. The crowd also needs to give a boost to the road weary Celtics.
Depth and Heart - Both teams are decimated by injuries (and players resting). Both will be playing short handed and with several young players. Which team will have the better depth and heart to withstand the injuries and come out with a win?
Something to Play For? - The Celtics are cemented into the 2nd spot. They have little or no chance to move up or down in the standings. They may see resting players more important at this point than pressing for a win. The Bulls on the other hand have won 3 straight. They are tied with New York in the tanking standings and just a game behind Brooklyn. They may see losing as more important to them now than a meaningless win that would move them down in the standings.