For the Chicago Bulls, the season began as what many thought to be a coming out party. The Bulls were on their way to defeating the Boston Celtics 105-99 in their first game of the season. That contest featured two teams fighting for respect. There was some pushing and shoving included.
That first game for the Bulls and Celtics would become the foundation for one the NBA’s most quiet rivalries of the season. Both teams now face each other in one of the most even playoff contests involving a No. 1 seed and an No. 8 seed.
Defeating the Boston Celtics in their first game was one of the highlights of the year for the Chicago Bulls. Fans saw the Bulls at their best. The Bulls were running the floor, making their three-point shots, and rebounding the basketball. They will look to do the same thing in their best-of-seven series.
The Boston Celtics are a formidable opponent. As one of the Eastern Conference teams with a legitimate chance at advancing to the NBA Finals, the Celtics will be a tough out. Unfortunately, drawing the Bulls in the first round did the Celtics no favors. The two teams tied their season series at two games apiece. Also, the Bulls played the Celtics well in three of the four games.
Many NBA observers foresee a long series. There is also a contingent of people who have picked the Bulls to win. It has led to the Celtics feeling like the underdogs, as reported by ESPN, not the favorites. At least in the eyes of Celtics’ guard Marcus Smart.
“We’re kinda used to this. Everybody on this team has been underdogs. That’s why we’ve been doing so well, because we always play with a chip on our shoulder. We expect that. We’re not really worried about it. We’re just focusing, like I said, on what we can control.”
To beat the Bulls, the Celtics will have to control the glass. That has been a weakness all season long and it is something that the Bulls will look to exploit.
Having an edge in rebounding will keep the Chicago Bulls close in this upcoming series. The other advantage the Bulls have is forward Jimmy Butler.
The team that has the best overall player usually has a good chance to win the series. Jimmy Butler is considered the best player in this best-of seven series. Advancing to the second round of the NBA playoffs would mean so much for Butler and the arc of his career. As of now, he is on the verge of superstardom. Taking down the Celtics as an eighth seed would solidify things for him. Especially if he can help slow down Celtics’ guard Isaiah Thomas.
According to CSN Chicago, Jimmy Butler will have to defend the high-scoring Thomas during certain stretches. It is a responsibility that Butler relishes.
“Yeah, I look forward to that matchup. Especially what he’s done this year for that team. I know it’s going to come at some point and time. I don’t know when, I don’t know where, but you know, I’m going to make it tough for him.”
Stopping Isaiah Thomas will take a concerted effort by the Bulls. Not only will Thomas have to be stopped, but so does the Celtics’ outside shooting. A cold shooting night by Boston gives the Bulls a huge edge.
This could be the last time that NBA fans get a glimpse of Dwyane Wade in his prime. The postseason version of Wade has historically been different than the regular season version. What Dwyane Wade is able to do will make all the difference for the Chicago Bulls. If he can play close to his vintage ways, he and Jimmy Butler will be a tough tandem to deal with.
The players who cannot be forgotten about are Rajon Rondo, Robin Lopez, and Nikola Mirotic.
Rondo will have the Bulls playing with pace, but what he can do defensively could conceivably swing the series in the Bulls’ favor. Rondo gets the first crack at slowing down Isaiah Thomas. The best way to do that is for Rondo to stay on the ground, and avoid going for Thomas’ hesitation dribble.
Robin Lopez has been steady all season. He will likely play more minutes than usual in an effort to the rebounding edge in the Bulls’ favor.
A confident Nikola Mirotic will be what makes or breaks the Bulls. When Mirotic plays well, the Bulls are a different team. They are not a club worthy of an eighth seed. The gap between the Bulls and the Celtics is smaller, because of the matchups themselves. Those expecting a short series between the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics will have to get used to a long slate. It would not be a surprise if the Chicago Bulls actually won.
[Featured Image by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images]