[thanks to Easy Eis for today's game preview. Lots of spots coming up if you want 'em -yfbb]
How quickly fates can change! Remember two and a half weeks ago when the Chicago Bulls were on a three game losing streak and its loyal beat reporters were calling for the team to trade Jimmy Butler and blow everything up? Well, one Christmas and a Jimmy Butler record-setting performance later, suddenly the Bulls are winners of six of their last seven and currently enjoy a five game winning streak. Tonight, they get a chance to continue their recent run of success when the Boston Celtics come to town following their loss at home to the Detroit Pistons last night.
The Celtics have enjoyed some decent success this season and the last despite the lack of any true star power on their roster, a testament to the excellence of their remarkably young head coach Brad Stevens. On paper, these two teams are extremely similar to each other. The Celtics rank 2nd overall in defensive efficiency rating this season while the Bulls rank 6th, place 4th overall in pace of play compared to the Bulls at 9th, and the two teams tie each other at 22nd in terms of offensive efficiency rating at 101.1 points per hundred possessions. In addition, the two teams rank right next to each other in terms of true shooting percentage and both offensive and defensive rebounding rate. This foreshadows that fans are likely in for an extremely competitive game this evening given the abundance of statistical similarities.
How do you attack a defensive juggernaut like this? One thing the Bulls can't afford to do is get complacent with taking jump shots. The Celtics are the very best team in the NBA at defending spot-up shots, surrendering points from these types of plays a mere 33.9% of the time, and these shots account for roughly 19.5% of the Bulls' total offense. Spot-up shots are an inevitable product of the pass-happy offense that Fred Hoiberg wants to run, but tonight the Bulls should focus more on relentlessly attacking close to the basket than settling for outside shots. The Celtics don't have any particularly good rim protectors other than David Lee (per Nylon Calculus) and they rank near the bottom third of the league at defending off-ball cuts to the basket, giving up points on said cuts at a rate of 62.0%. The fast pace of play of both teams will also favor the Bulls given that the Celtics just barely rank in the bottom half of the league at defending teams in transition (50% scoring frequency), while the Bulls are still the very best team in the league at defending such sequences by an incredibly wide margin (43.5% scoring frequency). If the Bulls focus on inside scoring and playing fast, they should have little trouble hitting the hundred-point threshold for the eighth straight game.
As previously stated, this is going to be an extremely competitive contest, and therefore an extremely close game down the stretch. From there, it could go either way. The offensive talent ceiling for the Bulls is so much higher than that of the Celtics' roster that one would expect Chicago to perform better in the clutch when it comes to winning time. This is reinforced by the fact that none of the top six leaders in minutes per game for the Celtics shoot above 45% from the field. At the same time, one would also expect Brad Stevens to coach circles around Fred Hoiberg when it comes to manipulating matchups and drawing up critical inbounds plays toward the end of the game. The key indicator from my perspective is that this offensively-challenged Celtics team has only won four games this season in which it has registered fewer than a hundred points, and that tells me that if the Bulls can avoid a major letdown on both ends of the court, then they should be able to pull away with a victory tonight. Basically, Big Macs for Bulls fans, and... wait, we need a sandwich that symbolizes the other team failing to register a hundred points. An Anti-Big Mac of sorts--something gross that leaves opposing fans with a bad mayo-filled taste in their mouths. I propose Subway considering when you google "gross sandwich," five of the first eight results are for Subway sandwiches and the horror stories associated with them. So, in conclusion, Bulls fans should expect a late night trip to McDonald's and Celtics fans should get ready for a mouthful of meatball extra-cheese white chocolate cookie crumble sandwich.
Tip is at 8 ET/7 CT on Comcast SportsNet as well as TNT, which means the Bulls can make it fifteen straight regular season home game wins on Turner Network Television with a victory tonight. Mike Dunleavy and Joakim Noah are both still out with respective back and shoulder issues. Avery Bradley is listed as day to day with a hip issue but will likely not play tonight.