8:30 PM EST, TNT – Line: Celtics -8, Over/Under: 202
The only First Round Series not to stay true to form, the Boston Celtics look to win their third consecutive game to take a 3-2 lead over the Chicago Bulls in Game Five from TD Garden, in Boston, Massachusetts. And it was all a dream… After shocking the top-seeded Celtics in Games One and Two, the Bulls (41-41, 8th in Eastern Conference) appear to have reverted back to the maddening group they were for the majority of eighty-two games before sneaking into the Playoffs at .500. It was a legitimate question as to whether or not this team could just physically manhandle their way through a Seven-Game Series with the Celtics, but given how they completely owned the opposition in the first two games, optimism was abound in the Windy City that this at times dysfunctional group may have finally figured it all out. And then they went home… Needless to say, coming home to the faithful at the United Center has NOT given Fred Hoiberg’s charges the requisite boost to put their counterpart out of their misery. So where has it all gone wrong for Chicago, you ask? Well, it would be awfully difficult not to lament the loss of Rajon Rondo (7.8 PTS, 40.8% FG, 37.6% 3FG, 5.1 REB, 6.7 AST, 1.4 STL), who has missed each of the last two contests after fracturing his Right Thumb in Game Two. The erstwhile Point Guard has been the proverbial mixed bag in his first (and most likely his last) campaign with the Bulls, but seemed to relish in taking on his former team, hounding Boston’s Isaiah Thomas throughout the first two meetings. With his availability moving forward in this set in question, Hoiberg has been left searching for answers at the Point, where he started Jerian Grant (six points, zero assists, four turnovers) to disastrous results in Game Three’s 104-87 loss, before frantically turning to Isaiah Canaan (thirteen points, three assists, zero turnovers) in the following affair which turned out to be a much wiser choice. Canaan, who hasn’t step foot on the court since April 10th was a breath of fresh air for Chicago, helping turn things around in the Second Quarter, stealing the ball from the Celtics’ Marcus Smart, leading to twelve unanswered points for the home side. Hell, the Bulls even took the lead for a brief moment with 4:35 left to play in the First Half. With that said, the visitors returned the favor with a 12-0 run of their own, and would never relinquish the lead for the remainder of the night. It should be interesting to see whether or not Hoiberg gives the seldom-used 25-year old his first start since last season, for ball security has been a real issue for this team; the hosts have coughed up the rock a staggering fifty times in the two losses, leading to thirty-nine points going the other way. With all that said, the Head Coach needs to get not necessarily better performances from his stars Jimmy Butler (23.9 PTS, 45.5% FG, 36.7% 3FG, 6.2 REB, 5.5 AST, 1.9 STL) and Dwyane Wade (18.3 PTS, 43.4% FG, 31.0% 3FG, 4.5 REB, 3.8 AST, 1.4 STL), but far more efficient ones, for these two Wings have struggled mightily since the Series transitioned back home. The former, who was sought after by the Celtics at the Trade Deadline, has supplemented some very poor shooting (14-of-37 FG, 0-of-7 3FG) with volume from the Free-Throw Line (19-of-23 in Game Four), while the latter has looked more and more worn down as the Series has progressed, averaging just 14.5 points on 11-of-30 shooting from the field (36.7%). Remember, the fourteen-year veteran missed eleven consecutive games with a fractured elbow before returning for the final three games of the campaign, and wasn’t even expected to return to action until the Bulls suddenly found themselves in contention for the Eighth Seed in the Eastern Conference. Shifting either player to Point Guard remains an option, though adding to their workload would likely just compound this team’s issues, for in addition to carrying the offense, Butler has had to periodically defend Thomas, while watching Wade lumber around has been a rather sad sight.
Meanwhile, after two very forgettable performances, the Celtics (53-29, 1st in Eastern Conference) have certainly appeared to have made the necessary adjustments to retake momentum over the Eighth Seed in the East. Perhaps the team as a whole was feeling the emotional weight after their leading scorer Isaiah Thomas (28.9 PTS, 46.3% FG, 37.9% 3FG, 2.7 REB, 5.9 AST, 0.9 STL) tragically lost his sister days before Game One in a car accident in their home town of Tacoma, Washington. Or maybe they were just stuck in the malaise of securing the conference’s top seed after a lengthy race with the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Whatever, it was, Boston has snapped back to reality, humbling Chicago on the road in each of the last two meetings by a combined twenty-six points. So just what the hell has changed for Brad Stevens’ charges, you ask? Well, the much discussed rebounding disparity hasn’t really changed all that much despite the shift in venues; after getting hammered on the boards in Games One and Two (Minus-23), they were outrebounded by eighteen in Games Three and Four. They’re still getting killed at the Charity Stripe as well; Chicago has outscored them in this regard by twenty-four points thus far, while attempting eighteen more singles. The difference has been that the Celtics have turned up the heat defensively, particularly on the perimeter, where they have relegated their opponent to a miserable 40.6% shooting from the field in the last two games, including a dreadful 11-of-45 from beyond the arc (24.4%). After the first two affairs, Stevens and his Staff made a point to disrupt Chicago’s ball movement (particularly given Rondo’s absence), permitting just 16.5 assists in Games Three and Four after yielding 25.0 in the games preceding them. It also helped immeasurably to get a more balanced performance on the offensive end. Usually, Role Players perform better at home than on the road, but this is where these guys managed to flip the script; apart from the aforementioned Thomas, who averaged 26.5 points on 48.5% shooting, the rest of the Celtics knocked down just 43.7% of their attempts in the first two games, but in the following pair of outings shot a much-improved 48.4% overall, including a scorching 41.4% from downtown. Things just came easier for the denizens of Beantown, as they thrived in transition, outscoring the Bulls by eight in Fast Break Points, while leveling with their counterparts in the Paint at forty-eight points apiece. Sunday’s 104-95 victory at the United Center was a perfect example of just how this team can attack you in waves when they’re at the top of their game; depth was a huge part of their success in the Regular Season, and in Game Four Boston had five different players reach double-figures, with Gerald Green (5.6 PTS, 40.9% FG, 35.1% 3FG, 1.8 REB, 0.7 AST) and Jae Crowder (13.9 PTS, 46.3% FG, 39.8% 3FG, 5.8 REB, 2.2 AST, 1.0 STL) combining for twenty-nine points on the perimeter, while Al Horford (14.0 PTS, 47.3% FG, 35.5% 3FG, 6.8 REB, 5.0 AST, 0.8 STL, 1.3 BLK) and Kelly Olynyk (9.0 PTS, 51.2% FG, 35.4% 3FG, 4.8 REB, 2.0 AST) complemented them in the Paint with twenty-five points, fifteen rebounds, and a pair of blocks. Horford, who has averaged 14.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 1.5 steals in this series must continue to carry the load in the Paint, where he has had to contend with the rugged Bulls’ size and physicality.