Boston 12-11 at Chicago 13-10
Result of last meeting: Boston 101 – Chicago 95
The Boston Celtics will take on the Chicago Bulls tonight in Chicago. They are coming off back to back losses over the weekend in Texas, losing on Friday to the Houston Rockets 101 to 89 and then on Saturday in San Antonio to the Spurs 103 – 88. In both games the Celtics played very well in spurts, but in the end were soundly beaten.
Tonight they will be facing a Bulls team that is coming off an 80 - 71 loss in Memphis last night. However, the Bulls have been playing much better of late winning five of their last seven games and seem to be a better team than the one the Celtics beat by six points in early November. If the Celtics are to beat the Bulls a second time this season they are going to need to do the following:
Better interior defense
Keeping the opposing team from scoring at the rim has been an Achilles heel of the Celtics all season long, particularly when Kevin Garnett is not on the court. Their two games this past weekend continued the trend. The Celtics were unable to stop anyone near the rim and allowed Greg Smith of the Rockets and Tiago Splitter of the Spurs to light them up from close range. Both men scored well above their points per game average and played key roles in their teams’ victories over the Celtics.
Tonight’s game against the Bulls could continue this pattern of weak interior defense by the Celtics, as the Bulls poses a solid front court featuring Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson. For the Celtics to come out on top tonight they are going to have to find away to keep Noah, Boozer and Gibson from scoring within five feet of the basket. Much of the responsibility to do this falls on the shoulders of veteran power forwards Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox, but given the trend of this season look for the Bulls front court to have a big game.
Defend the three point line
The Celtics perimeter defense has been lacking of late and in their last two games they have allowed fifty two attempts from the three point line with their opponents making forty two percent of their shots from beyond the arc. With the injury to Richard Hamilton, the Bulls do not have a dangerous long range shooter on their team, but the Celtics will have to rotate better on defense to cover the perimeter because the Bulls do have capable three point shooters in Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and Kirk Hinrich. If anyone of them gets hot it could be a long night for the Celtics. That said, look for the Celtics to make the adjustment to guard the three point line better in this game.
Begin the game with focus and energy
In their last two games the Celtics finished the first quarter trailing their opponent and never were able to recover from those early deficits. The Celtics need to sustain focus and energy throughout the first quarter to build a lead that can propel them to victory. Theoretically the addition of Courtney Lee in the starting line-up should make this happen. Lee has played better of late and his energy and defense have helped the Celtics win a few games. If he can duplicate this effort at the start of tonight’s game, it could help the Celtics build an early lead that the team can ride to a victory.
Scoring from the bench
The Celtics inability to consistently stop their opponents from scoring in the paint means they will have to overcome that deficiency by getting additional scoring from the bench. Jeff Green has picked up his game recently and is averaging nearly fourteen points a game in December. Moving Terry to the bench ought to help as well and he is coming off an eighteen point performance in San Antonio. Green and Terry should be able to provide the scoring punch needed tonight, but if they are unable to make shots it could cause the Celtics to fall short of a victory.
Key Individual Match ups
There are two individual matchups to watch in tonight’s game. The first is Paul Pierce against Luol Dang. This has been an interesting matchup to watch the past two seasons. Dang has developed into an all-star and is one of the few small forwards who can challenge Pierce on both ends of the court. In the first meeting between these teams this year Dang scored twenty six points, while Pierce could only muster ten. Look for this to be another fierce battle between the two, but expect Pierce to score more points this time around.
Tonight’s second big matchup is Rajon Rondo against whoever is playing point guard for the Bulls. Whether it is Hinrich or Robinson, Rondo should be able to dominate much like he did in the first meeting when he scored twenty points and dished out ten assists. His ability to dominate the Bulls point guards could prove to be the difference in tonight’s game.
The Celtics will have a tough time against the Bulls in Chicago tonight. The Bulls are strong in the front court, with Noah, Boozer and Gibson. This will cause the Celtics problems as they have not been able to defend the paint – it is reasonable to believe that one or all of them will have a big night scoring and rebounding. In order for the Celtics to overcome this problem, they will need energy and focus to build a first quarter lead, scoring from the bench to sustain the margin and superior play from Pierce and Rondo at their positions to win tonight’s game.