Marcus Smart is back, Malcolm Brogdon came back against the New Orleans Pelicans, and Robert Williams is inching closer to a return — things are looking good for the Boston Celtics right now.
Oh, and who can forget the fact the Celtics are on a 9-game win streak and boast the best offensive rating in the NBA? If you want to get even crazier, did you know Boston also holds a top-10 defensive rating over the past two weeks? Because they do!
With all that being said, the Celtics will still need to be wary of the Chicago Bulls when they face off on Monday night. Chicago has a knack for overcoming the Celtics, and has already tasted victory against Boston once this season — although the season series is tied at 1-1. Now, with the Bulls struggling for consistency, and questions starting to arise regarding their roster construction, longevity, and ability to contend for a championship, Chicago will have every reason to enter Monday’s game full of intensity as they look to prove a point.
Still, the Celtics can make it ten games unbeaten if they’re victorious against Chicago on Monday, and given their current level of play, should enter the contest full of confidence and ready to execute their game plan. Nevertheless, the Bulls could be a trap game for Boston, so, I’ve come up with 3 tickets to see the Celtics triumph against Chicago.
Fire away from deep
The Bulls currently sit 26th in defending above the break threes, allowing teams to shoot 37.7% against them. Interestingly, the last time Boston faced off with Chicago, the Celtics shot just 29% from deep, which is highly unusual for them this season.
Still, you have to go with the facts, and the fact is, Boston can find success from above the break, given how often the Bulls are giving up scoring opportunities. I’d expect to see Joe Mazzulla running actions to get Sam Hauser curling out of the corners, or Grant Williams popping after setting a rip or ghost screen — and of course, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown doing their thing when operating as primary ball handlers in the half-court.
Derrick White will have a role to play, too. Throughout White’s first 16 games of the season, he’s shooting 42% on non-corner 3’s per Cleaning The Glass, so his presence as an inverted screen and pop guard will be another worrisome thing for the Bulls to try and limit on Monday night.
No drop defense
The Bulls, as you would expect for a team with DeMar DeRozan on their roster, are second in the NBA for converting on their mid-range attempts. Funnily enough, the Celtics are first, but take less than half the amount of attempts.
Still, if you want to remove one of Chicago’s biggest offensive threats, then avoiding drop defense is going to be a significant part of that, because if there’s no gap in the middle of the court, it’s harder for DeRozan to do DeRozan like things. Of course, that also means you can’t get caught in his rear-view when switching, because DeRozan is always a threat to stop and pop in space.
It will be interesting to see how Mazzulla looks to contain Vucevic on the interior while also limiting DeRozan’s opportunities, but hey, that’s the game within the game, right?
Set the tone
The Bulls tend to know when to increase their intensity, and when to utilize their fast-break prowess, and we’ve seen them rally against the Celtics before - both this season and last. As such, the Celtics should look to control the tempo, set the narrative in terms of intensity, and sustain physical presence from the opening tip.
Chicago refuses to be put away easily, and will look to flip the script when a team takes its foot off the gas, but the Celtics already know this, because they’ve lived it, so one would hope they remember the tough lesson they learned towards the start of the season.
Having Smart back will be a significant boost to the Celtics' defense and intensity. We could see Blake Griffin take to the court if things start to get chippy, but maybe that’s me just putting some wishful thinking out into the universe.
The Bulls have all the motivation they need coming into tonight’s game. A win over the Celtics will quiet all of the chatter about their championship chances while also giving them the boost they need. But, the Celtics are no joke and know what it takes to put teams away after years of losing close games and falling behind after incredible comebacks.
I’ve got the Celtics nabbing a victory and ending the night with their win-streak entering double figures.