Celtics-Bulls matchups: Point guard - Thomas vs. Rondo

Celtics-Bulls matchups: Point guard - Thomas vs. Rondo

BOSTON – There was no getting around the magnitude of Boston’s 112-94 win over Milwaukee, a victory that secured Boston (53-29) finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference and with that, home-court advantage for as long they're in the postseason.
So, naturally all anyone wanted to talk about afterwards was the Celtics and their first-round opponent, the Chicago Bulls.


 “They’re a really good team,” said Avery Bradley. “We’re going to do a great job preparing over the next few days and it’s going to be a great series for us.”
Isaiah Thomas also had nice things to say about the Bulls who come in having won seven of their final nine games (albeit most of those wins came against the worst teams in the NBA).
“It will be a good matchup for us,” Thomas said. “They’re the eighth seed but they’re better than what seed they are. They’re a really good team, especially with Dwyane Wade back. So we have to be ready for them.”
I understand why Bradley and Thomas said so many nice things about the Bulls.
The last thing they want to do is give the Bulls bulletin board material.
But as much as the Bulls rallied to get into the postseason, there are significant flaws within their roster at several positions that in a playoff series, I anticipate the Celtics will exploit early and often.
Here's a look at the battle pitting the Celtics’ All-Star point guard of the present (Isaiah Thomas)  against the franchise’s All-Star point guard of the past (Rajon Rondo):
In Thomas, you have one of the most dynamic scorers in the NBA. The 5-foot-9 veteran was third in the league this season in scoring (28.9 points per game), which was tops in the Eastern Conference. And while there are many factors that have played a role in his improved scoring, the biggest appears to be him just being more efficient offensively. This is evident when you consider his effective field goal percentage (Efg%) was a career-high .546 this season. Thomas’ ability to shoot close to what he did during the regular season will go far in Boston’s quest to get out of the first round.
In Rondo, the four-time All-Star returns to the playoffs for the first time with a team other than the Celtics. This season with the Bulls, he appeared in 69 games (42 starts) while averaging 7.8 points, 6.7 assists and 5.1 rebounds while playing just 26.4 minutes per game. It’s clear that Rondo can still contribute in several categories. But he’s shooting just a shade over 40 percent (40.8 to be exact) from the field. If the Bulls are to pull off the upset, they’ll need him to knock down shots at a higher rate than that.

WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

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WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Pelicans in New Orleans. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 5:30  p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

As the NBA trade deadline drew near, Celtics Nation was hoping tonight’s matchup between Boston and New Orleans would be Anthony Davis returning to where his pro career began.

He’s still with the Pelicans, doing what Davis has done for most of his career – dominate play.

But there’s a new twist now … he’s also winning. 

That’s why the 6-foot-10 Davis is no longer seen as a player that might be on the move anytime soon. 

He’s not just one of the league’s best players, but a bonafide MVP candidate whose stock as an elite player is even greater since New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins (ruptured Achilles tendon) for the season on Jan. 26. 

Since Cousins’ season-ending injury, New Orleans (39-30) has a 12-9 record with Davis averaging 31.1 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 2.3 steals per game in that span. 

Davis is also averaging 7.8 free throws per game which ranks fourth in the NBA, although you wouldn’t know he was among the league leaders in that category based on the postgame rant by his coach Alvin Gentry following New Orleans’ 107-101 loss to Houston on Saturday night. 

“A.D. (Anthony Davis) never gets a call,” a visibly angry Gentry told reporters following the loss. “He never gets a call. We talk about them holding him. We talk about them grabbing him on rolls. We talk about them coming under him on post-ups. He never gets a call; not one. And you know why? Because he doesn’t (bleep) complain about it. He just keeps playing the game.”

Regardless of how often he gets to the line, Davis is still putting up MVP-caliber numbers this season in Cousins’ absence. 

But it’s not like Davis’ stat line this season overall – 28.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals – didn’t stand out for all the right reasons, either.

However, Davis’ shine isn’t quite as bright now with the Pelicans losing four of their last five games which has dropped New Orleans (39-30) down to the eighth and final playoff spot and just 1.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers (37-31).

So, the Celtics come into town facing not only one of the better teams in the West, but a club that is absolutely starving for a win.

While Boston (47-22) certainly wants to come into the Big Easy and get a victory, its impact on the Celtics’ playoff hopes is non-existent. 

Boston has the second-best record in the East and trail Toronto (52-17) by five games with 13 remaining. They face the Raptors two more times this season, but even if they win both of those games and thus the head-to-head series, it likely won’t come into play because of Toronto likely finishing with the best record in the East. 

And behind Boston in the standings is Cleveland (40-29), another injury-riddled team that’s seven games behind the Celtics in the standing and has shown no signs of threatening to gain ground on Boston. 

So regardless of how the Celtics fare, it’s likely they will remain sandwiched between Toronto and Cleveland in terms of playoff seedings are concerned. 

And that might factor into who plays – and who doesn’t – for Boston in these final few games of the regular season. 

Boston’s Daniel Theis suffered a season-ending torn meniscus injury in his left knee, and Marcus Smart’s right thumb injury will keep him out for the rest of the regular season with the earliest he might be back being the latter stages of the first round of the playoffs, or sometime during the second round if the Celtics advance that far. 

Boston must also make sure Kyrie Irving and his sore left knee, are good to go for the playoffs. In addition, the Celtics must work Jaylen Brown back into the fold after he suffered a concussion that has kept him out of Boston’s last three games. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has made a point of not allowing himself or his players to use their injury situation as an excuse for not playing good basketball. 

But he knows good basketball for his injury-riddled roster, involves players elevating their play.

“We’re going to be in the process of really looking at ourselves and redistributing responsibility on our team without guys going outside of what they do best,” Stevens said, adding, “We’re going to have to figure out how to play our best basketball.”