Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls
1. How vulnerable are the Celtics?
Boston outscored opponents by just 2.6 points per game – the second-lowest mark ever for the No. 1 seed in either conference. Only the 1976 Celtics (+2.3) fared worse and still claimed a conference’s top seed.
This Boston team still rates ahead of the Bulls (+0.4), but Chicago played exceptionally well when using only players projected to be in its playoff rotation. The deep Celtics received a much smaller bump when eliminating lineups that include players unlikely to have roles in this series.
Plus, Boston’s biggest weakness (defensive rebounding) coincides with one of the Bulls’ biggest strengths (offensive rebounding).
That said, Chicago hasn’t crashed the glass nearly as well since trading Taj Gibson. And in the same period, the Celtics have defensively rebounded much better, up to a middling rate.
Boston isn’t as strong as a typical No. 1 seed, and the rebounding is concerning. But the Celtics still have an overall advantage, and the matchup issues aren’t as troublesome as they appear at first glance.
2. How does Chicago defend Isaiah Thomas?
A key reason Boston went 53-29 and outperformed their Pythagorean-projected record of 48-34: Isaiah Thomas scored excellently in the clutch, turning multiple seemingly coin-flip games in the Celtics’ favor. Even when everyone knew Thomas would dominate the ball, nobody could stop him.
Will the Bulls?
Rajon Rondo hasn’t defended well in years. Jimmy Butler, who sounds up for the challenge and can probably cause problems in small doses, is more accustomed to covering bigger wings. Dwyane Wade probably can’t handle an assignment like Thomas anymore. Giving more minutes to Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams, Cameron Payne or Isaiah Canaan invites its own problems, not to mention no clear solution for Thomas.
The Bulls better focus on punishing the 5-foot-9 Thomas on the other end.
3. Can Dwyane Wade coexist with his teammates?
With Wade sidelined by injury late in the season, Chicago went 7-4. Rajon Rondo (10.9 points, shooting 47.0% from the field and 40.7% on 3-pointers, 8.5 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game) and Nikola Mirotic (16.9 points per game, shooting 52.3% from the field and 48.7% on 3-pointers) particularly looked more comfortable in that span. The Bulls shot 38.7% on 3-pointers in those games.
Now Wade comes back to… add talent? Complicate floor balance?
It’s unclear whether Chicago just happened to get hot while Wade sat or whether he’s restricting his teammates. The answer could make all the difference for the Bulls.
Wade, Rondo and Butler have played an entire season together, but we’re still wondering about the very first question with this team.