The basics: The Chicago Bulls (41-41) versus the Boston Celtics (62-20). The Bulls are 28-13 at home (yay!) but only 13-28 on the road (boo!). Meanwhile, the Celtics are 35-6 in Boston (the third-best home record in the league) and 27-14 outside of Beantown (tied for the second-best road record). Is it a bad sign for the Bulls that Boston’s road record is almost as good as Chicago’s home record? Yeah, probably.
Advanced stuff: The Bulls rank 19th in offensive efficiency (105.1 points per 100 possessions) and 18th in defensive efficiency (105.8 points given up per 100 possessions). The C’s? They’re 6th (108.1) and 2nd (99.4), respectively. Boston also has the edge in rebounding: They’re 2nd in the NBA with a rebounding rate (the percentage of missed shots that a team rebounds) of 52.8. Chicago ranks 20th (49.6). It turns out Boston isn’t just better offensively, defensively and on the boards…they’re way better. As bad signs go, that ranks somewhere between waking up next to a bloody corpse and finding out that Soylent green is people.
The season series: The Leprechauns won it 2-1.
Bad news for the Bulls: The Celtics won both games in Boston by an average of 17 points. Chicago shot 29.8 percent in the first game. They then lost the second contest by 18 despite shooting 50 percent both from the field and beyond the arc. That might have something to do with the fact that the C’s hit almost 60 percent of their field goal attempts (including 12-for-24 from downtown).
Good news for the Bulls: They did manage to win in the Celtics’ only trip to the United Center. It was an exciting (if rather defenseless) 127-121 affair in which John Salmons matched his career-high by scoring 38 points on sizzling 14-for-20 shooting. Some people felt the victory was marred by the fact that Kevin Garnett missed the game with that pesky knee injury. But, as it turns out, KG’s knee hasn’t gotten any better…and he won’t suit up for this series. Or maybe at all during this postseason. Bad news for Boston fans is good news for the Chicago faithful.
Reality check: The champs weren’t only missing Garnett. They also were without Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Tony Allen and Brian Scalabrine, and they lost Leon Powe a few minutes into the game after he bruised his right knee in a collision with Ben Gordon. The Celtics might be sans Garnett, but those other guys — well, except for Scalabrine — are back and ready to go. Oh, and Salmons’ ongoing groinal dysfunction will probably prevent him from enjoying any more scoring explosions.
A slight ray of hope: No matter how you look at it, the Celtics aren’t the same team without Garnett. They were “only” 18-7 without him (versus 44-13 with him). And they enjoyed far more success against non-playoff teams (10-2) than squads headed for the postseason (8-5). In fact, they’re giving up 107.5 PPG to playoff teams when KG isn’t around to bolster the D.
Celtics player to watch: Paul Pierce. He’s really picked up his game in KG’s absence, scoring 24.1 PPG while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 41.0 in threes. And, uh, he’s pretty much owned the Bulls this season: 22.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 56.8 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from threeland. And John Salmons, who will have to guard Pierce, is hobbling around with an injured groin. This could get ugly.
Bulls player to watch: Derrick Rose. His season averages against Boston — 14.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 4.7 APG, 42.9 percent shooting — weren’t the stuff of legends, and Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (14.7 PPG, 10.3 APG, 55.6 percent shooting versus Chicago) pretty much had his way. But this kid is already the Bulls’ best player. He’s got to be aggressive and set the tone offensively if the Chi-towners are going to have any hope at all of winning a game, let alone the series.
Key(s) to the series: First, Boston’s second-best-in-the-league defense. If the Bulls aren’t extremely careful, the C’s D might smother them like a kitten in a burlap sack. (Warning: Do not put kittens in burlap sacks…they’re so cute!) Second, Chicago’s bottom-half-of-the-league defense. The Bulls aren’t stopping anybody. If they’re forced to outscore the Celtics, well, it’s going to be a short series.
Fun fact: This will be the fourth time the Bulls have faced the Celtics in the playoffs. Boston won all three previous series in sweeps (4-0, 3-0 and 3-0). There is an odd symmetry to it all, though: In the first two series (in 1981 and 1986), the Celtics were on their way to a championship. In the third series (1987) and this one, the C’s were defending their title.
Prediction: Unless something unthinkable (like, say, Paul Pierce’s right leg falls off) or bizarre (like both of Paul’s legs fall off) happens, the Celtics should win this series 4-1. Unless John Salmons gets a bionic groin implant. But then again, if a man can cut steel with a piece of bacon — yes, it’s happened — then why can’t the Bulls beat the Kevin Garnett-less Celtics? As KG himself has pointed out: ANYTHING IS POSSIBLLLLLLLLEEEE!!!!