The Celtics begin their 3 game road trip to end the season with a stop in Chicago to take on the Bulls. This is the third and final game between these teams this season. Chicago won the first game 128-114 in Boston on November 1. The Celtics won the second game 114-112 also in Boston on January 15. The Celtics are 127-107 all time overall and they are 53-69 all time in games played in Chicago.
This is the first of back to back to back games for the Celtics. They have to travel to Milwaukee for a game against the Bucks on Thursday. They are 8-6 on the first night of back to back games and they are 4-3 when both of the games are on the road. The Bulls are playing on the second night of back to back games. They played the Bucks at home on Tuesday night. The Bulls are 9-7 on the second night of back to back games.
The Celtics are 2nd in the East. They have won their last 2 games and are 8-2 in their last 10 games. They are 21-17 on the road and 32-18 against Eastern Conference teams. They are 2.5 games behind first place Miami. They are tied with 3rd place Milwaukee and 4th place Philadelphia but own the tie breaker over both teams. They are 3 games ahead of 5th place Toronto and 4 games ahead of 6th place Chicago.
The Bulls are 6th in the East and they have lost their last 2 games. They are 4-6 in their last 10 games and are 27-12 at home. They are 29-21 against other Eastern Conference opponents. They are 4 games behind 2nd place Boston and 3rd place Milwaukee and 4th place Philadelphia. They are 1 game behind 5th place Toronto and they are 2.5 games ahead of 7th place Cleveland.
The Celtics are coming off a 3 game home stand where they went 2-1, losing to Miami and beating Indiana and Washington. This is the first of a 3 game road trip to close out the season. They will play Chicago and Milwaukee back to back and then finish the season at Memphis. The Bulls are playing in the 4th game of a 5 game home stand. They are 1-2 so far, beating the Clippers and losing to Miami and Milwaukee. They host Charlotte to close out the home stand and then finish the season at Minnesota.
Jaylen Brown (knee), Jayson Tatum (knee) and Al Horford (back) are all listed as probable for this game. My guess is that since the Celtics are playing back to back games, they may sit one or more of those three players either for this game or for Milwaukee. My guess is that the Bucks game is more important and so if they are going to sit them, it would likely be this game. Robert Williams remains out with the knee injury.
For Chicago, Zach LaVine (knee) is listed as probable and will be a game time decision. Javonte Green (quad) and Derrick Jones, Jr. (knee) are both also listed as probable. Matt Thomas (leg) is questionable and Lonzo Ball (knee) has had a setback in his rehab and will be out for the rest of the season. Alex Caruso left Tuesday’s game with back spasms and is doubtful for this game. I’m going to guess that Coby White gets the start in his place.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams (knee) out
Nick Stauskas (ankle) out
Juwan Morgan (covid) out
Jaylen Brown (knee) probable
Jayson Tatum (knee) probable
Al Horford (back) probable
Probable Bulls Starters
Derrick Jones, Jr
Troy Brown, Jr
Lonzo Ball (knee) out
Matt Thomas (leg) questionable
Zach LaVine (knee) probable
Derrick Jones, Jr (knee) probable
Javonte Green (quad) probable
Alex Caruso (back) doubtful
Jayson Tatum vs DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan has been having an All Star season for the Bulls. He is averaging 28 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists. He is shooting 50.3% from the field and 45.5% from beyond the arc. He had 37 points in the Bulls win over the Celtics and 23 in their loss. DeRozan is also coming off a 40 point game against the Bucks. Slowing down DeRozan is key to beating the Bulls.
Al Horford vs Zach LaVine
LaVine is listed as questionable but I think he will play. If he doesn’t, Patrick Williams will get the start in his place. LaVine is averaging 24.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. He is shooting 47.7% from the field and 39.3% from beyond the arc. He missed the Bulls loss to the Celtics this season and scored 26 in their win. Since he missed Wednesday’s game against the Bucks, he should be fresh and ready to go for this one. The Celtics must also find a way to slow LaVine down.
Daniel Theis vs Nikola Vucevic
Vucevic is averaging 18.0 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. He is shooting 48% from the field and 31.8% from beyond the arc. He had 27 points and 6 rebounds in the Bulls loss to the Celtics and had 11 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists in their win.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics are first in the league with a defensive rating of 106.1 while the Bulls are 21st in the league with a defensive rating of 112.6. The Celtics need to continue to make defense a priority and with Timelord still out, they need a strong defensive effort from every player if they hope to win this game. The Bulls are 3rd in the league shooting 48% from the field and they are 4th in 3 point percentage at 36.8%. The Celtics will need tough defense to slow down their shooting.
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. The Celtics are 4th in the league, pulling down 46 rebounds per game while the Bulls are 29th in the league, grabbing 42.4 rebounds per game. The Celtics have to work hard to beat the Bulls to the rebounds and give themselves extra possessions.
Stay Focused - A lack of focus can explain a lot of the Celtics problems when they struggle. They lose focus and turn the ball over time after time during stretches in the game. They have to focus on making crisp passes and on not turning the ball over. They also lose focus and struggle to hit shots that they would usually make. At times they also lose focus on defense and miss assignments and allow opponents open shots on the perimeter and easy shots at the basket. The Celtics must stay focused and take care of the ball, focus on taking and making good shots, and focus on playing tough team defense.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to come out and be aggressive right from the opening tip. They have to be aggressive on defense, driving to the basket, rebounding, diving for loose balls and just playing harder in general. They need to get off to a strong start and play hard right up until the final buzzer. They can’t let the Bulls outwork them for any period of time. They have to play with confidence and and not let up.
Injuries - It goes without saying that injuries can change a game for either team. If Zach LaVine can’t play for the Bulls, that will make the game easier for the Celtics. If any of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown or Al Horford are out, that will make the game much harder for the Celtics. Who will be out and who will play is a game time decision for both teams.
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 and not waste time arguing with the officials.