Apr 12, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) and forward Jimmy Butler (21) rest during the second half against the Brooklyn Nets at the United Center. Chicago defeats Brooklyn 112-73. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
The 8-seeded Chicago Bulls will take on the 1-seeded Boston Celtics in the opening round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs. Here are a few things to watch for.
The Chicago Bulls did not have a great 2016-17 season by any stretch of the imagination. From unexpected wins against some of the best teams in the league, to head-scratching losses to the lower-tiered squads, it was difficult for Bulls fans to predict which version of their team would take the court on any given night.
Despite their up-and-down season, though, the Bulls needed to win their final two games in order to snag a playoff berth, and win they did. Against the Orlando Magic, the Bulls led wire-to-wire in a 122-75 victory.
A few nights later against a Brooklyn Nets team that rested six players, the Bulls defeated the Nets 112-73 to capture the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference. With that pair of wins, not only did the Bulls make it to the playoffs in Fred Hoiberg’s second season, this will also mark their eighth playoff appearance in nine years.
Their reward for sneaking into the postseason is a first-round matchup against the top-seeded Boston Celtics. These two teams went 2-2 against each other during the regular season, with each ball club winning each game on their home court.
Of course, being that the lights shine a bit brighter in a playoff series, what happens during the regular season often goes by the wayside depending on the two teams facing each other.
So without further delay, here are a few trends to keep a close eye on in what will be an interesting series between the Bulls and Celtics.
Mar 21, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; A fight breaks out between Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka (9) and Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez (8) at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Chicago 122-120 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Bulls Must Control The Glass And Limit Turnovers
Whether it’s the regular season or the playoffs, controlling the glass and limiting turnovers can be key factors in any matchup. But no two factors stood out more so than these in the four meetings between these two ball clubs.
In the Bulls’ two victories, they were a +39 on the glass. Along with that, they enjoyed a 40-9 advantage in second chance points.
Conversely, in their two losses, the Bulls out-rebounded the Celtics by a slim 90-89 margin, with the second chance points being even.
As far as taking care of the basketball, in their wins against the Celtics, the Bulls committed just 20 turnovers that led to 24 points. Meanwhile, in Chicago’s two losses, the Celtics forced 38 turnovers that resulted in 46 points.
That being said, it is crucial for the Bulls to win out in these areas if they want to give themselves an outside shot at knocking off the beasts of the East.
If they don’t, the series will more than likely end in four or five games.
Apr 1, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) guard Rajon Rondo (9) and guard Denzel Valentine (45) celebrate their win against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half at the United Center. The Bulls won 106-104. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Will The Younger Players Step Up Or Fold Under Postseason Pressure?
Although the Bulls’ 2016-17 season was wildly inconsistent, everyone knows what to expect from the veteran players. Jimmy Butler is the unquestioned top scorer and defensive specialist.
The offseason addition of Dwyane Wade gives the Bulls another player who can take over down the stretch. Chicago plays at a faster pace when Rondo is on the floor, and Robin Lopez is a presence at both ends of the floor.
Where the uncertainty comes into the play has to do with the younger players on the roster. Jerian Grant (36 percent), Denzel Valentine (35 percent) and Paul Zipser (33 percent) are all capable three-point shooters, but neither of them has had the experience of playing in games where every possession counts.
On top of that, Nikola Mirotic and Michael Carter-Williams have only played in six postseason games. Furthermore, Mirotic struggled at various stretches during the season, and at one point, he was shooting 39 percent from the floor and just 30 percent from three-point range.
Mar 13, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) shoots the ball over Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lamb (3) in the second half at Spectrum Center. The Bulls won 115-109. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Can D-Wade Turn Back The Clock One More Time?
Following an NBA Finals run as a member the Miami Heat in 2010-11, Dwyane Wade didn’t play more than 64 games over the next four seasons due to an assortment of injuries. However, in what proved to be his final year in South Beach, not only did Wade play in 74 games, he also had a postseason to remember.
In 14 games, the 14-year veteran averaged 21.4 points on 47 percent shooting overall, including an eye-popping 52 percent from distance, and he brought the Heat within one win of another Eastern Conference Finals appearance.
This is one of the reasons why the Bulls were willing to shell out $47.5 million even if Wade is in the twilight of his career. Of course, the fact that he has won three titles while averaging 22.8 points and 5.0 assists in 166 postseason games may have factored into the decision as well.
If Wade can play at a similar level as he did in the playoffs a year ago, not only do the Bulls have a chance to get out of the first round, they also have a slight chance of making things interesting in the next round as well.
Feb 16, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives past Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) during the first quarter at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Marquee Matchup: Jimmy Butler vs. Isaiah Thomas
Although Hoiberg has not discussed his defensive plan for slowing down the Celtics, a lot of what they like to do from an offensive point centers around All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, and rightfully so.
Despite his diminutive 5-foot-9 stature, Thomas led the Celtics in scoring and finished as the NBA’s third-leading scorer with 28.9 points per contest. Additionally, Thomas is no stranger to playing well when his team needs it the most, as he averaged 9.8 points in the fourth quarter, which was second only to Russell Westbrook.
Like Thomas, Jimmy Butler is his team’s No. 1 scoring option. In addition to that, another area where Butler excels is guarding the opposing team’s best player.
Taking that into consideration, it would be safe to presume that Butler will be guarding Thomas at some point during this series — a challenge that Butler says he is looking forward to.
“I look forward to that matchup,” Butler told ESPN. “Especially what he’s done this year for that team. I know that it’s going to come at some point in time. I don’t know when — but I’m going to make it tough for him. For anybody that I’m guarding. Not just me, it’s going to be a team effort. I’m going to get beat at times, I’m going to need guys to be there. If not, then we’ll do it over and over again ’til somebody is there if I’m beat. But I look forward to that challenge. I want that.”
This will be one of the more interesting matchups between the two teams. And while beating the Celtics is more than about limiting their star player, the Bulls will increase their chances of winning the series if they are able to make life difficult for Thomas.
Feb 16, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) drives on Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) during the second half at the United Center. Chicago won 104-103. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Who Has The Edge?
The last time the Bulls played in Boston, their offensive woes were on full display. They missed 18 of their first 19 attempts en route to scoring a meager nine points in the first quarter and 26 points for the entire first half.
This dismal effort by Chicago allowed the Celtics to cruise to an easy 100-80 victory. While the regular season is over, that game has to be on the minds of this Bulls team because it shows what can happen if they don’t bring their A-game against a Celtics squad looking to prove that it is deserving of the top spot in the eastern conference.
Which team has the edge?
Well, even though the Bulls have the advantage at the small forward and shooting guard positions, the Celtics have the edge everywhere else.
The caveat here is the Bulls tend to play better against some of the top-tiered teams in the league, and the Celtics definitely fall into the category.
In other words, if the Bulls play to their strengths, they have as much of chance of winning the series as the Celtics do. On the other hand, if the inconsistent version of this team shows up, the Celtics will easily advance to the next round.