It’s playoff time and the Boston Celtics are set to tip off against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday evening, thus starting another run at an NBA Championship.
The expectations are their highest since Danny Ainge traded away Paul Pierce four years ago and the expectations have panned out so far as the team earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Now they get the eighth seeded Bulls – who finished 41-41 but split their four regular season meeting with Boston – and there are lots of reasons to be excited.
That level of excitement is probably so high you don’t even want to wait until Sunday for them to get started, but just in case you planned on skipping the series completely I have decided to tell you what will happen so you can just nap through round one.
Game One: Boston Celtics 108, Chicago Bulls 103
Boston hasn’t taken game one of a series since the second round in 2012 and that’s also the last time they won a playoff series, so holding home court against the eighth seeded Bulls will be a great way to start their playoff run. The energy will be high and you’ll see a lot of strong performances from everybody in the rotation. Isaiah Thomas will get buckets, Avery Bradley will shut down whoever stands in front of him and Al Horford will stuff the stat sheet with points, rebounds and assists. Guys like Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart and Amir Johnson will each have a stretch or two where they don’t miss on the offensive end, Jaylen Brown will send the TD Garden crown into a frenzy with a tomahawk slam or two and some all out, balls to the wall hustle plays from Jae Crowder will do the same. Game one of any playoff series will bring out the best in anybody and the Bulls will do enough to keep it close, but the better team winds up pulling this one out in the end.
Game Two: Chicago Bulls 104, Boston Celtics 100
The Celtics are an average defensive team – having 15th in the league in points allowed this year – and their strength on that end of the floor is centered around Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart being elite perimeter defenders. This does create a matchup flaw in the Bulls favor because it doesn’t really matter if you can defend the three point line against them, they simply can’t shoot the three ball no matter what. Without getting into too many details, Rajon Rondo was the team’s leader in three point percentage this season and any dedicated fan in New England knows that that guy does not have a reliable jump shot. Chicago will try all series to use this to their advantage and they’ll also go hard on the offensive glass to create many second chance opportunities. The Bulls did lead the league with 12.2 offensive rebounds per game this year, so it’s a real possibility that this becomes a problem for the Celtics.
Game Three: Boston Celtics 115, Chicago Bulls 98
This game will be a huge tipping point in the series. With five games renaming, three of them are at the United Center so Brad Stevens and the gang will need to win this one and take the home court advantage back. They’ll do this easily by sending a firm message and showing why they are indeed the top seed in the Eastern Conference. By the time most starters have checked out with three minutes left in the first quarter, the Celtics will have amounted a double-digit lead and the bench crew will only keep piling it on. The score makes this game look even closer with Tyler Zeller, Terry Rozier and Gerald Green all getting extended minutes in the final frame.
Game Four: Boston Celtics 112, Chicago Bulls 105
A victory in game four puts Boston one win away from advancing, but this one will be a tad closer than game three was. This will be the marquee game of the series for Isaiah Thomas, who does need to have a strong first round and help lead the Celtics out of the first round. Thomas scored a lot against the Atlanta Hawks last year in the playoffs but he also shot below 40% from the field, just 28.3% from beyond the arc and he also had an equal or negative assist to turnover ratio in three of the six games. As bad as that sounds, he was even worse against the Cleveland Cavaliers one year earlier. Another bad postseason run as this team’s “go to guy” could have him labeled as one of those guys who can’t get it done “when it matters” so a nice 40+ point showing to push Boston ahead 3-1 in the series should help his cause.
Game Five: Chicago Bulls 106, Boston Celtics 97
Boston will fail to eliminate the Bulls in their first crack at it when all their shooters go cold and they fail to crack 100 points, which was a rare occurrence for them this season. It could wind up looking a lot like their recent loss to the Hawks on April 6th when Thomas posted a -20, Bradley posted a -14 and yet it was still a two possession game with three minutes to go because of some grit and hustle from the guys off the bench. You’ll see Olynyk, Brown and even a surprise player like Jonas Jerebko – who averaged a career worst 3.8 PPG this season – doing enough to keep the Celtics in the hunt, but vintage Dwyane Wade will eventually crush them down the stretch with some big buckets. Age is clearly catching up to the future Hall of Fame shooting guard, but we learned last year that the 2006 NBA Finals MVP can still get it done when the bright lights come on as he came up big for the Miami Heat and helped them to a 3-1 record in elimination games.
Game Six: Boston Celtics 111, Chicago Bulls 106
A small panic will come out of the last loss, but it won’t be long lived as Boston steps up and clinches a first round victory on the road. Fans might be a little scared with flashbacks of 2010 D-Wade from when he dropped 46 points against the Celtics in round one to help the Heat fight off elimination for another day, but Boston did turn around that year and win the next game and the same thing will happen here. This will be a huge win for many people within the organization. Ainge building a roster that advance past the first round just four years into a full rebuild like this is something that many general managers haven’t been able to do and the first series win for Brad Stevens will be huge as well.