Sunday will begin the Eastern Conference first-round matchup between the No. 1 Boston Celtics (53-29) and No. 8 Chicago Bulls (41-41). This Celtics team surprised people this season in not only their successful fight to take the one seed away from the Cleveland Cavaliers, but also in the individual performance of Isaiah Thomas and other players that stepped up, such as Al Horford and Avery Bradley.
On the other hand, we have the Bulls, who have been one of the more inconsistent teams as of late. Jimmy Butler has been their leading scorer, despite almost being traded at the deadline. Dwyane Wade then suffered an elbow injury that was supposed to put him out for the remainder of the season. However, with a speedy recovery, he returned in the team’s final game and is good to go for the playoffs. The question left is, with the rocky season and just barely making the playoffs, will they be able to come to form and put up a fight against a confident Celtics team?
Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls Series Preview
The Celtics and Bulls split their season series, 2-2. In the two the Celtics lost, it simply came down to rebounding. In those two games combined, Boston was out-rebounded 106-67. This led to a lot of opportunities and second-chance points for the Bulls.
The Bulls are Streaking
The Bulls are 7-2 in their last nine games. While there’s no saying what weight this holds entering the playoffs (if any), it does help with confidence; and with the inconsistency that the Bulls have experienced, they will take all of the confidence boosts they can get.
The Celtics are Better Offensively
Boston is averaging 108.0 PPG, shooting 45.4% from the field. Meanwhile, the Bulls average 102.9 points, shooting 44.4%. These numbers vary, but not by so much as to say the Celtics are going to sweep. If Chicago can find a few players behind Butler to help with the scoring, they have a chance at taking Boston to some extra games.
Thomas is the leading scorer for the Celtics, averaging 28.9 PPG on 46.3% shooting. Behind him is Bradley averaging 16.3, and Horford with 14.0.
Butler leads the Bulls scoring, shooting 45.5% and averaging 23.9. Behind Butler is Wade, who averages 18.3.
What to Watch for
Rebounding — and Just what Factor it Plays
Chicago is the 4th best rebounding team in the league. This is something to certainly keep an eye on considering that Boston sits at 27th in rebounding this season. Since the Celtics have been so good on the scoring end, the Bulls are going to need to make sure their offensive rebounding, in particular, is at its best. This will ensure they get as many second-chance opportunities as they can, which is something they took advantage of when playing Boston this season. If the Bulls can out-rebound the Celtics, they have a chance to slow them down. This will allow Chicago to control the pace, which they can certainly use to their advantage.
Who Steps up Behind Each Team’s Leading Scorer
Thomas has been the star of the show this season for the Celtics, but the playoffs are generally not the time for a complete one-man show. The Celtics need Horford and Bradley to step up. This will be especially important as the Bulls put pressure on Thomas.
On the Bulls side, things are a bit more interesting. Butler is expected to continue to lead on the offensive end, especially when the Bulls are on their home floor. However, when we look past Butler, Wade is next in line. Wade took a flash to the past last playoff season with the Heat, averaging 21.4 PPG while shooting 52.2% from 3-point range. If he finds a way to perform at or near this level again in the postseason, more pressure will be put on Boston.
How Each Team Starts out this Series
It is going to take a little time for both of these teams to settle into the postseason. This will mostly be due to a younger team in Boston and an inconsistent team in Chicago. With how well the Celtics play at home, it’s hard to see Chicago winning either of the first two games. However, the Bulls should play particularly well when they go back to Chicago. This series is going to come down to who can take the advantage that they have and run with it.
The Bulls are going to put up a fight, but the Celtics are coming into these playoffs ready to win. Isaiah Thomas is going to get hot and help Boston take this series.
Boston Celtics in 6.
All statistics are from www.ESPN.com and are accurate as of April 13th, 2017.
CHICAGO, UNITED STATES – NOVEMBER 8: Dwyane Wade (L) and Jimmy Butler (R) during a NBA game between Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois, United States on November 8, 2016.
(Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)