Game 1: Sat, April 18 – CHI @ BOS – 12:30 pm ET
Game 2: Mon, April 20 – CHI @ BOS – 7:00 pm ET
Game 3: Thu, April 23 – BOS @ CHI – 7:00 pm ET
Game 4: Sun, April 26 – BOS @ CHI – 12:00 pm ET
Game 5: Tue, April 28 – CHI @ BOS – TBD (if necessary)
Game 6: Thu, April 30 – BOS @ CHI – TBD (if necessary)
Game 7: Sat, May 2 – CHI @ BOS – TBD (if necessary)
Regular Season Record: 62-20
Eastern Conference Seed: 2
G G F F C
Regular Season Leaders
PPG: Paul Pierce (20.5)
RPG: Kevin Garnett (8.5)
APG: Rajon Rondo (8.2)
SPG: Rajon Rondo (1.9)
BPG: Kendrick Perkins (2.0)
Regular Season Record: 41-41
Eastern Conference Seed: 7
G G F F C
Regular Season Leaders
PPG: Ben Gordon (20.7)
RPG: Joakim Noah (7.6)
APG: Derrick Rose (6.3)
SPG: Kirk Hinrich (1.3)
BPG: Tyrus Thomas (1.9)
Close Off Penetration: The staple of the Boston Celtics a year ago was their dedication to team defense. They talked, they sacrificed, they made remarkably crisp defensive rotations, and they let the basketball world know that you are not going to win an NBA championship if you don’t commit to both ends of the floor.
Oh yeah, and last year’s club had Kevin Garnett at full strength. This year’s Boston Celtics do not, at least for the time being, as the team recently announced that Garnett’s knee has failed to respond to the healing process as smoothly as they would’ve liked. In fact, he may even miss the remainder of the season, no matter how far the Celtics go. The loss hurts in more ways than one, but the part Boston will miss the most is his defensive presence. Now, there is no defensive quarterback directing traffic and providing the most active roamer and second-line defender in the league. Kendrick Perkins is no slouch, but he can’t do it alone. That is why the perimeter defense becomes that much more important in this series.
The Bulls aren’t necessarily the most feared three-point shooting team in the East, but guys like Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, and Tim Thomas can light it up when they’re hot. However, the number one defensive focus must be to contain Chicago’s penetration. Derrick Rose and John Salmons, especially, have the ability to knife their way to the rim and put the opposing defense in tough spots in the paint. With Garnett and Brian Scalabrine out of the lineup, Doc Rivers has less leeway when it comes to managing foul trouble.
Rajon Rondo is the most important proponent to Boston’s chances of cutting off Chicago’s penetration effectively. Our third-year point guard is known for making spectacular defensive plays, but he is also known as a guy that has the tendency to get caught up in the gambling game at times. In this series, Rondo needs to make sure he uses his tremendous gifts of speed and anticipation to his advantage, by staying in front of his man as opposed to attempting to create the “home run” fast break opportunity.
If a Derrick Rose gets a step on his defender, it puts your back-line of defense in bad spots. It forces them to commit, which can both create easy dump-off opportunities for the offense – which leads to easy layups – and/or put your bigs in foul trouble. With limited frontcourt depth, it is imperative that the Celtics avoid foul trouble as much as possible, while maintaining their level of intensity. Tough thing to do.
Finish Defensive Possessions With Rebounds: They say that if you win the rebounding battle, you are going to win the ballgame more often than not. It’s true.
The Celtics not only have to deny penetration and rapidly close out in kickout situations, but they have to make sure that they gain control of that basketball off Chicago misses. If the Celtics want to dictate the tempo, second-chance opportunities should be a rarity for the Bulls throughout this series.
Ball Movement: The Celtics didn’t accumulate 128 regular season victories over the past two years because of one-on-one, selfish play. They did it because they moved the ball and played as a team. With Kevin Garnett out of the lineup, more isolation is expected, but the men in green cannot allow those settings to take over the offensive attack.
Boston was the most efficient three-point shooting team throughout the 2008-09 regular season (39.7%). Let’s take advantage of that, keep that ball moving, make Chicago’s already-underwhelming defense work for stops, and continue get as many open looks as possible.
This formula guarantees success against the Bulls. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Boston’s three-point shooting numbers against the Bulls throughout the three-game regular season series. The Celtics shot 48.1% from deep against the Bulls this season, and even managed a +6.8% clip from the field overall (51.2% to 44.4%).
Don’t give the Chicago defense an easier time than it should have on the defensive end. Make them work for their stops and forced turnovers.
Points in the Paint: One of the most noticeable advantages the Celtics have over Chicago is their interior scoring weapons. The versatility of “The Big Ticket” will be missed, but the low-post scoring presence of Leon Powe can pay dividends if Boston makes it a point to feed him. Paul Pierce’s ability to methodically get to the rack and draw fouls could also haunt the hopes of Vinny Del Negro in his first playoff series as head coach, and we all know how effective Rajon Rondo can be when he displays that relentless, attack mindset.
Even Kendrick Perkins has a large advantage over the likes of Joakim Noah. Perk held averages of 15.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, on 60% shooting, against Chicago this season. His brute strength and length is simply too much for Noah in the post, and if Perk can take advantage of that on the offensive end, the Celtics could have an easier time getting buckets than originally expected.
Ray Allen: Without Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen is going to have to make sure he begins the 2009 postseason in much better fashion than he did in 2008. The Celtics cannot afford for Ray Allen to struggle the way he did against Atlanta and Cleveland last year. For the Celtics to make a run, Allen is going to have to produce right out of the gate.
The Bulls have a lot of talent in their starting five, but they also have some excellent options off the bench. Kirk Hinrich was receiving All-Star consideration just two seasons ago, and while he has fallen off in terms of production ever since he signed a lucrative deal back in the summer of 2007, he is still more than capable of putting up big performances. The sixth-year guard can play both positions in the backcourt, is known as one of the better on-ball perimeter defenders in the Eastern Conference, and can really shoot the ball from the outside.
Even more worrisome is the options Del Negro has in the frontcourt. Former All-Star center Brad Miller may not start games, but his presence alone could give the Celtics problems on a consistent basis. Not only is he a large 7’0’’, as opposed to the frail backup seven-footer the Celtics have in Mikki Moore, he is extremely skilled. He can rebound the basketball, is one of the best passing big men the game has to offer, and most of all, he is a terrific mid-range shooter. He likely won’t pose many problems in the post, but what he can do is stretch the defense and pull Boston’s centers out to the 15-20 foot area, subsequently taking them out of rebounding position.
Another guy that can do some damage is perhaps one of the least-liked forwards in the NBA. While he is notorious for only turning it on when a contract is on the line, he can shoot the basketball at 6’10’’ and he has done so all year long. Through 36 games with the Knicks this season, Thomas buried the three at a 42.1% clip, and followed up with an even more impressive 44.2% mark through 18 games in Chicago.
The Celtics have some options of their own, however, especially in the backcourt. Most notably is one of the most devastating long-range snipers in the game, Eddie House. For a guy that couldn’t find a steady home in the NBA for so many years, he certainly has earned his appreciation here in Beantown. House hit the three at a franchise-best 44.4% clip this season, and has come up huge in late-game situations for the Celtics since he signed last summer. Stephon Marbury could also find himself playing an important role in the postseason. We all know that he can score, but he has proven that he can still make a positive impact whether he is shooting well or not, because of his floor vision and ball handling. Why is an extra ball handling option so important on this team? It enables House to play off the ball at all times, and limits his role to what he does best – catch and shoot. House and Marbury displayed second-to-none chemistry with one another to cap off the regular season, and if they can match that throughout this series, Doc Rivers will be a very happy camper.
A third guy that could really give the Celtics a big boost in the backcourt is the oft-injured Tony Allen, who put together a string of encouraging performances after returning from his thumb injury on April 3. “TA’s” slashing ability is a bonus for the Celtic offense, but the reason he can be used as a weapon is this series is the simple fact that he is a great matchup against Chicago’s guards and wings. This gives Doc the luxury of giving Chicago different looks defensively, as Allen is capable of defending Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Derrick Rose, and even John Salmons if he is asked to do so. Look at Tony Allen to be the “dark-horse X-Factor” for this Celtic bench in the first round.
Bench play, from both sides, is one of the factors that could truly dictate how many games this series ultimately lasts. Stay tuned.
- Boston’s roster sports a combined figure of 422 career playoff appearances. Chicago has just 327, and that’s including the 141 postseason outings of Lindsey Hunter, who hardly ever sees the floor. In short, Boston has a large edge in experience.
- When Paul Pierce has been the focal point of the Celtics offense over the past few years (ala pre-Big Three era), Luol Deng has given the captain a great deal of trouble. Deng’s arm length and effort to stay home below the waste, as opposed to leaving his feet and falling for fakes, has made life difficult for Pierce against the Bulls in isolation situations.
- Kevin Garnett won’t be there to take pressure off of Pierce offensively, but Deng won’t be there to disrupt his attack, either, as a stress fracture will keep the fifth-year forward out of action throughout the first round’s entirety.
- John Salmons will likely be the man who will be assigned to defend Pierce in Deng’s absence, but even he will also be playing with a strained groin.
- The Bulls have won 13 of last 15 home games. With that in mind, along with the energy they play with and their fan support, Chicago may be able to make things interesting.
- Despite past tendencies, Kevin Garnett will join the Celtics on the sidelines to provide an emotional and vocal boost.
114.3 – 105.0
42.0 – 37.3
25.3 – 19.7
8.3 – 6.0
5.0 – 5.7
15.3 – 16.3
51.2% – 44.4%
48.1% – 41.3%
81.9% – 84.7%