The Chicago Bulls took game one in Boston Sunday afternoon, and there may be a chance I’ll eat some crow after this series. Heading into game one, I wasn’t holding as much optimism as some of my colleagues. While Sunday’s game was only the first of what looks to be a long series, the advantages the Bulls have over the Celtics, which our team here discussed on Saturday, were what propelled Chicago in the end.
Namely, it was their rebounding.
As detailed by The Athletic’s Stephen Noh heading into this series, the Bulls rebounding after their midseason trade of Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott hampered their advantage on the glass. Prior to the trade the Bulls were second in the league in offensive rebounding, at 28.4%, only behind the Denver Nuggets. Following the trade, that number dropped to 23.8%, good for 18th in the league.
Even with the decline in rebounding percentage, the Bulls still have a clear advantage on the boards over a Celtics team who finished the season 27th in overall rebounding percentage. And it showed in the series opener.
Chicago out-rebounded Boston 53-36, and it was one of the key factors in keeping the Bulls in the game as Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler (until the end of the third quarter), Nikola Mirotic and Paul Zipser struggled from the field. The individual rebounding totals from the night were solid across the board:
Robin Lopez - 11
Bobby Portis - 9
Jimmy Butler - 9
Rajon Rondo - 7
Dwyane Wade - 5
The Bulls ended up corralling 20 offensive rebounds on the night, to a mere 12 from the Celtics. Those 20 offensive rebounds ended up leading to 23 second chance points from the Bulls, compared to only 15 from the Celtics. Between the trio of Robin Lopez (8), Rajon Rondo (4) and Jimmy Butler (3), they combined to grab 15 offensive boards themselves. Lopez was especially dominant in the first half:
The Celtics did hold their own a bit more in the second half, as the Bulls Offensive Rebound percentage was an otherworldly 59% in the first half but wound up a merely-incredible 45.5% for the game.
Boston’s frontline isn’t exactly intimidating when it comes to rebounding, especially Al Horford (you can look back at his struggles with Atlanta in previous playoff appearances). As Sunday afternoon, the starting duo of Horford and Amir Johnson managed to muster only 11 rebounds throughout the entire game.
For the Bulls to remain competitive in this series, and extend it to six or seven games, their going to need to continue to punish Boston on the boards at every opportunity. Because in the playoffs, where every possession matters, those offensive rebounds leading to extra possessions are absolutely critical.