Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Game #24 Preview, Bulls-Celtics: Take Two

Chicago Bulls (13-10) vs. Boston Celtics (12-11)

The Opponent

After going to Memphis and apparently playing a basketball game while under the influence of Southern BBQ, the ever-prescient schedule makers allowed the Bulls a chance to avenge themselves tonight against Boston. 

The Bulls have faced Boston once before, a 101-95 loss on Nov. 12 at the UC. During that game, the Bulls took a 12-point deficit into the halftime break and heading into the fourth quarter. They cut the Boston lead to as low as two after a Luol Deng layup made it 95-93 with 49 seconds left in the game. Unfortunately, the Bulls could not get a stop thereafter, and the requisite free throw-fest went as it usually does. 

Even without Ray Allen, the Celtics are still a formidable team. However, they're only 12-11, and are coming off two straight defeats in the state of Texas (a 12-point loss at Houston on Friday and a 15-point loss at San Antonio on Saturday). The Celtics couldn't handle Houston's transition game on Friday (not unlike the Knicks last night), giving up 25 fast break points compared with only 11 of their own, which just about accounts for the difference in the final score. 

On Saturday in San Antonio, the Celtics only allowed four fast break points but couldn't defend the 3-point line, where the Spurs shot 48% (12-for-25), good for a team eFG% of 54%. This point does not benefit the Bulls, as they are: a) not the Spurs and b) still an atrocious 3-point shooting team, even with Belinelli sort of starting to pick it up a bit. 

The lineup is the same as it has been: Garnett-Rondo-Pierce-Lee-Bass. It's not as if the Bulls are playing the Bobcats or something; you know who all of these guys are. Rondo is averaging almost quite literally the same number of assists per game as he is points (12.9 ppg, 12.7 apg). 

The Celtics got their standard amount of scoring from their three big name players, but Brandon Bass, who is averaging a shade under 9 ppg, only scored two points in each of the aforementioned games in the Lone Star State. He had a key dunk late in the first matchup against the Bulls that helped to seal the win for Boston; if the Bulls limit Bass, they should be able to keep the Celtics within striking distance. Bass scored 16 points on 5-for-6 shooting the last time these two teams met.   

Points of Concern 
As always, Rondo doing Rondo things against the creaky, unathletic Bulls roster remains a concern. For all of his faults, Kirk Hinrich is supposedly a solid defensive player, but Mike Conley, typically offensive option No. 4 for Memphis, scored 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting last night, with 4 assists and 2 turnovers. Hinrich looked completely out of sorts, and who knows if he is even 100% from whatever the injury du jour happens to be.

Basically, the Bulls guards (Hinrich and Robinson) vs. Rondo translates to:

Also, as already stated: don't let Brandon Bass scored almost double his season average on you. You will not win if you do that.

What Needs To Happen 
  • SURVIVAL.  At this point, I'm not sure there are many point guard matchups in the league that I can look at on paper and say that the Bulls have any sort of advantage. Am I being hyperbolic? Maybe, but also maybe not. In any case, the Bulls guards can mitigate the Rondo Factor by, as always, getting the Bulls into solid halfcourt sets, avoiding long rebounds (which to Rondo is sort of like getting the golden mushroom item in Mario Kart) and pushing the ball only when it is completely obvious to do so. This might not sound like "fun" basketball to a lot of people, but you would be surprised how fun this thing called "winning" can be. 
  • Something's gotta give. On the bright side, Boston is an absolutely atrocious offensive rebounding team. With an offensive rebounding percentage of 19.1%, the Celtics are literally the worst in the league. On the other hand, the Celtics clean up on the defensive boards better than the Bulls do, with a percentage of 74.5% to the Bulls' 72.7%. So, both teams clean up their own boards pretty well but only the Bulls excel on the offensive glass. The Bulls can mitigate the terrifying Rondo Factor by getting tons of second chance opportunities. By the same token, if the Bulls let a team like this offensive rebound on them, well, they're just not going to win this game.
  • Teague? Many were calling for Teague last night, which is fine even though I doubt he would have been a net positive for the Bulls. However, he did play 18 minutes the last time the Bulls faced the Celtics (with Hinrich out with a right hip injury). He was 1-for-4 from the field, scoring 5 points and notching 2 assists in a +9 night for the rookie. Simply put, if Hinrich cannot get it done once again, Thibodeau needs to have a much shorter leash in going from him to Robinson and then to Teague. If Teague gets another DNP, I'd be a little disappointed. Teague showed some frustrating hesitancy with the ball in his hands late in the shot clock last time against Boston, but I think everyone will agree that he's grown a decent bit as a player since then. In the end, however, the sad thing is that this bullet speaks more to the state of the Bulls' point guard depth chart at the top than it does Teague.
Useless Prediction Time
  • The Bulls gave up 58 first half points against the Celtics in the first meeting over a month ago, which I believe still stands as a season high for the Bulls. I envision a much grittier defensive effort from Chicago this time around. The Bulls will hold Boston under 100
  • The Booze cruise sailed across choppy waters last time against Boston; he went 7-for-14 for 16 points, but was as mercurially inconsistent as he's ever been. Also of note, he was not on the floor when the Bulls made their fourth quarter push to make it a game. Actually, I think neither Evil Boozer nor Good Boozer shows it up in this one; the forgotten family member, Just Fine Boozer will take the stage tonight. It will be just fine. 
  •  Kevin Garnett will glower at somebody at some point for no particular reason. 
  • Bulls 90, Celtics 88. 

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