2017 NBA Playoffs

Five Things to Watch: Bulls battle Celtics in Game 4 today on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls battle Celtics in Game 4 today on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Boston Celtics today in Game 4 on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. And be sure to stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live-streaming coverage of the Bulls.

1. Which point guard steps up? With "Playoff Rondo" shelved after suffering a thumb injury, one of the Bulls point guards needs to step up for them to win Game 4. No one is expecting a near-triple-double like Rajon was approaching in Game 2, but hitting open shots and pushing the pace will be vital on Sunday. Jerian Grant finished with a minus-15 and zero assists in Game 3, while Michael Carter-Williams played 23 minutes and scored only two points on 1-for-5 shooting. If those two continue to struggle, it wouldn't be surprising to see Fred Hoiberg call Denzel Valentine's name. 

2. Bigger game from Jimmy Butler. In Game 1 Jimmy Butler dropped 30 points. He followed that up with 22 points, eight assists and eight rebounds in the Game 2 win. Game 3 wasn’t as pretty for the Bulls’ top scorer. Butler had 14 points on 7-21 shooting and didn’t have any assists. It’s an obvious thing to say, but the Bulls need more from Butler to stay in front in the series.

3. Three-point defense. Boston is going to take plenty of threes. The Celtics were third in the NBA in 3-point attempts per game in the regular season with 33.4 per contest. Still, the Celtics shot 17-37 in Game 3. It’s hard to beat a team shooting that well from beyond the arc so the Bulls will have to limit the quality looks Boston gets from the perimeter.

4. Bench production. Not only did Butler have good showings in the first two games, but the Bulls got plenty of bench production as well. That dried up in Game 3. After the Bulls’ bench averaged 30 points in the two games in Boston, the bench had just 16 points in 44 minutes before scoring 10 points in garbage time in the final four minutes of the blowout loss. It doesn’t matter where it comes from - Bobby Portis played the hero in Game 1 and Paul Zipser had the big game off the bench in Game 2 - as long as the bench provides some numbers.

5. Tame big Al Horford. Horford had a nice bounce back game on Friday, scoring 18 points on an efficient 8-for-14 shooting. He also conflated that with a solid floor game, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing six assists. If Horford continues to be aggressive when the Celtics have the ball, it could spell trouble for the Bulls. When Chicago dismantled Boston in Game 2, Horford only had seven points on 3-for-8 shooting. 

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No clear options for Fred Hoiberg at point guard

No clear options for Fred Hoiberg at point guard

Rajon Rondo’s shrieking, distinctive voice could be heard through the Advocate Center before the Bulls practiced Saturday afternoon but because his distinctive game won’t be available, Fred Hoiberg is faced with his first big playoff test as coach.

The Bulls still go into Sunday evening’s Game 4 with an opportunity to put the Celtics in a precarious position but you’d be hard-pressed to find many who believe the Bulls actually have the advantage in this series.

It's easy to forget the Bulls have a 2-1 lead, but it looked like they forgot it themselves in their 104-87 Game 3 loss Friday night.

“I feel we have a really good team,” Jimmy Butler said before practice. “I’m taking our chances over theirs. I don’t care how many games. We just have to get to four. We don’t care who counts us out. We really don’t care who wants us to win.”

With no legit point guard, Hoiberg not only has to counter Brad Stevens’ fruitful move in going small but also has to find someone credible to get the Bulls into their offense as Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams took turns being overwhelmed in trying to fill Rondo’s shoes.

One has to wonder if Hoiberg will go with a big lineup on the perimeter to counter the Celtics, as the Bulls’ best stretch was in the second quarter when Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Paul Zipser bothered the Celtics with their size and length. He wouldn’t rule it out but in true Hoiberg fashion, wasn’t about to tip his hand.

“Yeah, we’ll look at everything. That lineup was out there on the floor even though we didn’t start that way,” Hoiberg said. “That is a lineup that will obviously play together at some point in the game, but again looking back at the course of the year and going back and watching film, when Jerian was our starter we did have some very good minutes out there.”

The advantage would be forcing Thomas to guard a much bigger player and if he winds up on Butler or Wade, it could truly compromise a Celtics defense that wreaked terror on the Bulls Friday night.

It could certainly facilitate ball movement, but not the pace Hoiberg so desires as Butler and Wade playing point means the Bulls will play a slow-down game—along with the fact that chasing Thomas around on the other end for long stretches will cause issues.

“The biggest thing we were doing yesterday was taking the ball out of the net, and that just kills any opportunity you have for pace,” Hoiberg said. “Again, too much ball holding as was evident by our assist numbers. I mean 14 for the game, and we were single digits for most of it. So we’ve got to get the ball moving better.”

In theory, Hoiberg would want to keep Grant or Carter-Williams in there, but the duo combined for seven turnovers and just three assists while being hounded by Avery Bradley. In a season full of changes and tinkering it wouldn’t be shocking to see Hoiberg make a change in the first five.

But it’s hard to see a clear option that would satisfy every objective going into Game 4.

“That first quarter, we got down 20 right away and obviously we have to do a lot to prevent that from happening,” Hoiberg said. “We’re going to get through practice today and then make our final decision on the lineup for tomorrow.”

Grant said after the film session and before practice that he hadn’t heard anything about being pulled from the starting lineup, but admitted the obvious: That his performance didn’t do much in the way of inspiration, despite his experience in starting 28 games this season.

“I got to take care of the ball,” Grant said. “I had some careless turnovers, I have to push the pace …didn’t play with a whole lot of energy band so I feel that starts with me.”

Grant shot 42 percent from 3-point range in his starts and has decent size in terms of his matchup with Thomas. Carter-Williams had some decent moments against Thomas defensively but provided nothing on offense, and given the fragility of both, one wonders if Hoiberg will give either one more chance before the series goes back to Boston Wednesday.

Nerves were clearly a problem for both, which can be rectified with a more open playbook or just the familiarity of a second game at the United Center. If it’s not nerves, then it means neither are options moving forward and the organization has a problem on its hands, beyond this series, beyond this season.

“We’re confident in Jerian,” Hoiberg said. “His teammates are confident in him, so it’s just about going out there and having something positive happen out of the gate. That always helps. Again, we’ll see how things go today, and make a final decision.”

Celtics shake up starting lineup, going small with Gerald Green vs. Bulls

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USA TODAY

Celtics shake up starting lineup, going small with Gerald Green vs. Bulls

The Bulls were forced to change their starting lineup when point guard Rajon Rondo was revealed to have fractured his right thumb in Game 2.

The Celtics are also changing their lineup heading in Game 3, but head coach Brad Stevens is doing it on his own.

The Celtics will go small Friday night at the United Center, replacing power forward Amir Johnson with guard Gerald Green. Small forward Jae Crowder will shift to power forward as the Celtics attempt to add length, athleticism and speed to a starting lineup that has been soundly outplayed through two games.

"We want to be able to spread them on offense and shoot the ball. And then we want to, on defense, is we’re gonna not play two bigs, we’ve got to be long and athletic on the perimeter and we’ve got to help each other rebound," Stevens said.

The Celtics have been badly beaten on the glass in the first two games of the series, allowing the eighth-seeded Bulls an unlikely 2-0 lead. Green played sparingly in the first two games of the series, logging just 6 minutes in Game 1 before a DNP-CD in Game 2.

Green has only played 16 minutes with the rest of the Boston starters this season (Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Crowder and Al Horford), and before the game he spoke to the media about how he won't try to do too much in his new role.

"Honestly I feel like I play really good with (Thomas). Feel like I’ve always played really good with him. I’m not going to try to do anything out of my character," he said. "Just gonna go out there and focus on rebounding, defense, and just try to be the most athletic player on the court. Try to make plays on both ends of the floor."

Johnson has been ineffective in slowing down the crashing Bulls, who have 31 offensive rebounds through two games in the series. Johnson has tallied a combined nine points and six rebounds in 27 minutes.

Jerian Grant will start in place of Rondo. But it's the Celtics who blinked first in this first-round staring contest.