The Celtics return to the TD Garden looking for their first home win of the season. It won’t be easy to beat this Bulls team. They are 5-1 on the season, with their only loss by 1 point to the Knicks. They handed the Jazz their only loss so far. This is the first of 3 games between these two teams this season. They will meet again in Boston on January 15 and in Chicago on April 6.
The Bulls won the series with the Celtics 2-1 last season. The Celtics are 127-106 all time against the Bulls and 50-67 all time in Chicago. The Bulls are in their second season with coach Billy Donovan. Of the players who started last season with the Bulls, only 3 players remain: Zach LaVine, Coby White and Patrick Williams. Only one of those 3 will be playing in this game. If a team could use the excuse of having to build chemistry, the Bulls would certainly qualify.
Marcus Smart, Aaron Nesmith and Robert Williams missed the game in Washington due to a non-covid illness. There are no players on the injury list for the Celtics as of this time but it’s always possible that players are added at the last minute. As of now, all three of those players are probable for this game. I’m expecting the regular starters of Smart, Brown, Tatum, Horford, Williams.
For the Bulls Patrick Williams tore ligaments in his wrist on Friday in the loss to the Knicks. He is scheduled for surgery and is expected to be out 4-6 months. Coby White had surgery on his shoulder in June and is expected to be back at some time from mid-November through early December. I’ve included the starters who are listed in the Bulls game notes. Former Celtic, Javonte Green is listed to start at small forward against Jayson Tatum.
Probable Celtics Starters
Marcus Smart (illness) probable
Robert Williams III (illness) probable
Aaron Nesmith (illness) probable
Probable Bulls Starters
Derrick Jones, Jr
Troy Brown, Jr
Coby White (shoulder) out
Patrick Williams (wrist) out
Two Way Players
Jaylen Brown vs Zach LaVine
LaVine is leading the Bulls with 25.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. He is shooting 45.7% from the field and 40.5% from beyond the arc. Jaylen must play solid defense on LaVine and try to keep him from getting open threes and make it as difficult as possible to score both in the paint and on the perimeter. Jaylen Brown played well against the Wizards with 34 points on 58% shooting but he missed all 5 three pointers that he took. The Celtics will need another solid performance from him on both ends of the court.
Al Horford vs DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan has been playing very well for the Bulls with 23.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. He is shooting 44.7% from the field and 30.8% from beyond the arc. Al Horford has been one of the bright spots for the Celtics so far. On Saturday, he started at center and had 8 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocks. He will need to continue to play tough defense to keep DeRozan from having a big game in this one.
Robert Williams III vs Nikola Vucevic
Vucevic is averaging 15.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. He is shooting 47.0% from the field and 32% from beyond the arc. Hopefully Timelord will be back in the lineup and healthy and able to limit Vucevic’s effectiveness in the paint.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics played better defense against the Wizards than they did in their previous game, but in both of their home games so far, their defense has not been good. They are 19th in the league with a defensive rating of 107.7 while the Bulls are 6th with a defensive rating of 99.3. The Celtics will need to increase their defensive intensity if they want to beat the Bulls.
Rebound - Much of rebounding is effort and every player must put out extra effort and hustle to crash the boards and grab rebounds. The Celtics average 47.5 rebounds per game while the Bulls average 41.2 rebounds per game. The Celtics must rebound as a team and limit the rebounds for the Bulls, who will turn those rebounds in to extra points.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics have to move the ball and make the extra pass to find the open man but they have to make careful passes and not turn the ball over. The Celtics are averaging 15.3 turnovers per game while the Bulls average only 12.2 turnovers per game. The Bulls are 2nd in the league with 22.8 points off turnovers per game and will make the Celtics pay if they get careless with the ball.
Effort and Focus - The Celtics have played hard and looked focus in some games and in others, including their two home games so far, they have looked flat with very little effort or focus on the game. They need to especially put out effort on the defensive end and to beat the Bulls to rebounds. They also have to focus on their shooting and take good shots and make them. They won’t win many games where they shoot 7.7% from beyond the arc. If the jumpers aren’t falling again in this one, they need to go to the basket. With a bit more focus, they should be hitting those shots they missed against the Wizards.
Home Game - You would think that being at home would give the Celtics extra motivation and give them a lift. So far this season, that hasn’t been true. Their best games have been on the road with losses coming in overtime or double overtime. They haven’t played as well at home. They need to get energy from the crowd and come out focused and ready to dominate their home games.
Officiating - The officiating can be an x-factor in every game. There have been a couple of calls in pretty much every game that could have made a difference in the result of the game. The officials are calling the games differently this season and offensive players, including Jayson Tatum, need to get used to not getting the calls they did in past years and when they don’t get the calls, they need to play on and not waste time complaining about them.