NEW ORLEANS – By just about anyone’s account, the Boston Celtics had a good road trip with wins in three of the last four games.
They're hoping to carry on that strong play tonight against the Chicago Bulls (11-7) who are once again among the better teams in the Eastern Conference despite dropping three of their last five games.
They have a different look about them under first-year coach Fred Hoiberg.
And while the leadership may be different, there remains some constants in their play that are just as challenging now as they were under their former coach and ex-Celtics assistant, Tom Thibodeau.
Here we take a look at some key areas that will play a factor in which team emerges with a win in what’s becoming an extremely crowded Eastern Conference.
BOTH TEAMS LOOK (TO) BOARD
Nobody pounds the paint like the Chicago Bulls who come in averaging a league-best 48.3 rebounds per game. Although the Celtics have consistently been among the bottom-10 when it comes to rebounding, they have been a solid top-10 team in terms of offensive boards where they currently rank fourth in the league with an 11.9 offensive boards per game average, and are sixth in offensive rebounding percentage (.259).
A lot of that has to do with Jared Sullinger whose 3.0 offensive boards per game ranks 10th in the NBA.
SCORE … AT YOUR OWN RISK
Points will indeed come at a premium for both teams. Boston comes with an impressive defensive rating of 97.0 which is good for third-best in the NBA this season. Now Hoiberg has certainly tried to jazz up the Bulls’ scoring this season, the first-year coach is smart enough to know the strength of this team still lies in how well they defend. They are literally right behind the Celtics when it comes to defense, with their defensive-rating being 97.1 which is the fourth-best mark in the league.
COSTLY MISTAKES PAY OFF FOR THE C’S
When you turn the ball over against the Celtics, they don’t just put your defense on its heels immediately. They hurt you where it really counts – the scoreboard.
Boston is averaging a league-best 21.1 points off turnovers and if deflections where a stat the league tracked they would lead the way in that area as well.
The Bulls present an intriguing challenge along this area because they are one of the better teams at making the switch from offense to transition defense. That’s why they rank among the league’s top-10 in both fewest points allowed off turnovers (14.5 points, 3rd in the NBA) and fewest allowed fast-break points (11.5 points, 10th in the NBA).
CHUCK, CHUCK AND AWAY …
Even though neither team has shown great touch from the field with any consistency, that won’t prevent them from getting up shots … lots of shots, actually.
Boston has been among the league’s leaders in field goal attempts most of this season, although they appear to be slowing down in this area. During their five-game road trip, Boston averaged 83.8 field goal attempts which ranked 15th in the league in that span. That said, Boston still ranks fourth in the league with 87.6 field goals attempted per game.
Just ahead of them?
That would be the Chicago Bulls who have averaged a league-best 89.2 in their last five games, and are third overall this season with 87.7 field goal attempts per game.
THE POWER OF 3
If there’s one thing that has changed with the Chicago Bulls under Fred Hoiberg, it’s Chicago’s effectiveness with the 3-point shot. They are taking about the same number now (22.1) as they did last season (22.3), but there’s a much clearer focus on not just taking them but taking good ones which is evident by them shooting at a fairly high rate which has been a key to their early season success. They come into tonight’s game making 37.3 percent of their 3s on the season which is up from their 35.3 percent mark last season.
Now the Celtics have been a bottom-10 team most of this season when it comes to 3-point shooting. But a string of strong shooting games recently has elevated them to No. 19 in the league when it comes to 3s (33.3 percent). Avery Bradley has been especially hot for the Celtics, connecting on 51.6 percent of his 3s in the team’s last five games. Of the players with as many 3s made (16) during that span as Bradley, only one player – reigning league MVP Stephen Curry – has a higher 3-point shooting percentage (.592) than Boston’s 6-foot-2 guard.