The Celtics visit the Chicago Bulls for the third and final game this season. The Celtics won the first game 119-103 in Chicago on January 25. The Bulls won the second game 102-96 in Boston on April 19. They were scheduled to play on January 12, but that game was postponed due to Covid. This game is the rescheduled game from that postponed game.
The Celtics were off Thursday while the Bulls are playing on the second night of back to back games. The Bulls had lost 4 in a row before Thursday when they got both Zach LaVine back after missing 11 games with Covid and Nikola Vucevic back after missing 2 games with a hip injury. With those two back in the lineup, the Bulls beat Charlotte 120-99. The Bulls are 2-4 on the second night of back to back games.
The Celtics have slid back into 6th place, tied with the 7th place Heat. The Celtics have two huge games against the Heat coming up on Sunday and Tuesday. The Celtics are 1 game behind the 5th place Hawks and 2 games behind the 4th place Knicks. They are 3 games ahead of 8th place Charlotte. The Celtics are 5-5 in their last 10 games and 14-18 on the road.
The Bulls are in 11th place, but haven’t given up on their hopes of making the play-in tournament. They are half a game ahead of the Raptors (12) and 3.5 games behind the Wizards for 10th and a spot in the play-in tournament. They are 5.5 games ahead of Orlando (13th). The Bulls are 4-6 in their last 10 games and 12-20 at home. They had lost 4 games before their win over the Hornets on Thursday.
The Celtics can’t seem to have everyone healthy. Tristan Thompson (pectoral muscle) and Romeo Langford (concussion protocol) are probable for this game after missing Wednesday’s win over the Magic. Robert Williams joins the injury list as questionable with a toe injury. I’m thinking they rest him in this one to have him healthy for the Heat game on Sunday. Jaylen Brown is out once again but may be back on Sunday for the game against the Heat. For Chicago, Troy Brown, Jr is doubtful with a sprained ankle.
Season Reset: The Celtics have 2 very important home games against the Heat and one game each against the Cavaliers, Wolves and Knicks. Miami, along with the 2 games against Boston, has games against the Timberwolves, 76ers, Bucks and Pistons. Atlanta has games against the Rockets, Magic,and twice against the Wizards. New York will play the Suns, Clippers, Lakers, Spurs, Charlotte and Boston.
Probable Celtics Starters
Tristan Thompson (chest) probable
Romeo Langford (concussion) probable
Robert Williams (toe) questionable
Jaylen Brown (ankle) out
Probable Bulls Starters
Troy Brown, Jr. (ankle) doubtful
Marcus Smart vs Zach LaVine
LaVine is leading the Bulls with 27.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game. He is shooting 50.6% from the field and 41.6% from beyond the arc and so Marcus will need to stay with him both inside and on the perimeter. Even after missing the last 11 games with Covid, LaVine is 6th in the NBA in 4th quarter scoring with 368 points. He is also 6th in clutch scoring with 118 points. He missed the 4/19 game but in the 1/25 game, he had 30 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Slowing him down will be key to getting a win in this game.
Tristan Thompson vs Nikola Vucevic
With Robert Williams questionable, Tristan Thompson may once again get the start at center. Vucevic is playing very well, averaging 23.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. He is shooting 49.5% from the field and 42.3% from beyond the arc. He is a very good 3 point shooter and the Celtics need to defend him both in the paint and on the perimeter. Of course, if Williams can play, he should be starting at center.
Kemba Walker vs Coby White
White is averaging 14.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game this season. He is shooting 41.3 % from the field and 34.9% from beyond the arc. In the Celtics last game against the Bulls, White had 19 points, 3 rebounds and 7 assists. Kemba played very well against the Magic and hopefully will build on that in this game.
Keys to the Game
Play Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics are 13th in the league with a defensive rating of 111.5 while the Bulls are 17th in the league with a defensive rating of 112.1. The Celtics need to make defense a priority and they need a strong defensive effort from every player if they hope to win this game. The Bulls just got their top two scorers back into the lineup and so the Celtics need to concentrate on getting stops and win this game with defense.
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 beat the Bulls on the boards. Both teams are averaging 44.5 rebounds per game. The Celtics have to work hard to beat the Bulls to the rebounds and give themselves extra possessions.
Play with Urgency - The Celtics are fighting to stay out of the play-in tournament. They need so look at every game as a must win. They have beaten some of the top teams and looked good doing it. But, then again, they have lost to some of the bottom teams and looked terrible. They have to come out and be the more aggressive team in everything from taking the ball to the basket to diving for loose balls, to crashing the boards. They have to be the team that wants it more because the Bulls are playing hard and so the Celtics have to play harder if they want to get a win. The Celtics can’t depend on the teams ahead of and behind them to lose for them to stay in the top 6. They have their destiny in their own hands and need to take it seriously.
Move the Ball Carefully - The Celtics must take care of the ball and not give up extra points by making careless passes and turning the ball over. They also have to move the ball and find the open man because hero ball rarely ends in a win. The Celtics have to play as a TEAM and they have to trust each other and not try to do too much by themselves. They also have to run and keep moving and not allow the Bulls to run past them.
Focus on the Road - Will the Celtics be focused in this game or will they come in expecting to win without having to play hard? The Celtics have to come in focused and they have to stay focused in spite of opposing fans, in spite of travel and in spite of playing a team with a much worse record. This will be the first time that the Bulls will have fans in the arena so it should give them added motivation and the Celtics need to be ready for that.
Former Player Factor - The Celtics and Bulls swapped players at the trade deadline and former Celtics Daniel Theis and Javonte Green are now playing for the Bulls while Luke Kornet is a former Bulls player on the Celtics. Often players and teams play harder to get a win against their former teams. Look for a big game from Daniel Theis in this one.
Officiating - The officiating is always an x-factor. Sometimes a crew will call the game tight and blow a whistle on every play. Other times they will let them play and let the game get physical. The Celtics need to adjust to the way the game is called and not let missed calls or bad calls affect their focus. If the calls are bad, they just need to play harder to make up for them.