CHICAGO – Going into Boston’s first-round series with Chicago, the matchup between Al Horford and Robin Lopez was seen as one Horford should win in order for the Celtics to take this series.
Well, we’re two games into it with the Bulls taking both Games 1 and 2 in Boston.
And while the factors contributing to that have been many, among them has been Lopez getting the best of Horford in both games.
The lazy comparison would to be focus solely on their scoring and rebounding numbers which tell a story.
In two games, Lopez is averaging 16 points and 9.5 rebounds while shooting 67 percent (14-for-21) from the field.
Horford’s numbers - 13 points 9.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists on 52.4 percent (11-for-21) from the field – aren’t bad.
But the narrative for this matchup goes a little deeper statistically.
“We need to play our best basketball,” Danny Ainge, Celtics president of basketball operations, said on Thursday on his weekly call-in to 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich show. “We need to play like the basketball we were playing in the middle of March. And I still think we have that in us.”
If they do, chances are it’ll manifest itself in the play of Horford, who is one of the NBA’s better-passing big men, who can also score around the basket as well as from 3-point range.
All those skills need to on display in Game 3 on Friday if the Celtics are to have any shot at getting back in this series with a Game 3 win.
Because up until now, the best big man in this series has been the 7-foot Lopez.
He came into this series with a well-earned reputation as a solid defender and rebounder. But what hasn’t been talked about much when it comes to Lopez is his offensive game.
Playing with All-Stars Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo doesn’t exactly lend itself to their being bountiful opportunities for Lopez to get buckets.
But what the Bulls have done a brilliant job of most of this series is putting Lopez in position to play off of Chicago’s Big Three while taking relatively wide open to lightly contested mid-range jumpers, which he is more than capable of knocking down.
Lopez doesn’t necessarily fit the “stretch center” profile because he doesn’t shoot 3-pointers. But as the Celtics can attest to, he can do more than just score around the rim.
This past season, he shot 43.8 percent on mid-range jumpers – an identical percentage to Horford’s regular-season average from the same shooting zone.
But in the playoffs, Horford has shot 20 percent while missing four of his five mid-range jumpers in this series, while Lopez has been nearly flawless with the mid-range jumper, connecting on seven of his eight attempts, or 87.5 percent.
Here’s a closer look at Horford-Lopez matchup heading into Game 3 on Friday: