The NBA playoffs start today, but fans of the Boston Celtics will have to wait for tomorrow to see their team take on the Chicago Bulls.
These are the highest expectations that the team has had since Danny Ainge made the bold, but smart decision to send Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett away and now Ainge has built a roster strong enough to get the top seed in the East despite still having a team on the rise. This upcoming series against Chicago is one that many people are excited for and it should lead to a lot of fun basketball.
Game-by-game predictions are already out! But now it’s time to get deeper into this. What will happen within these seven – or fewer – games? Here’s five things to look for!
Jaylen Brown will have a 20 point game
The reigning third overall pick had his role on the Celtics constantly changing throughout his rookie campaign, but he’s clearly a player who got better as he was more involved with the game plan. Brown shot 49.1% from the floor and 40.4% from three in games where he played 20 or more minutes while shooting 41.0% from the field and 25.5% from beyond the arc in games where he received under 20 minutes. There will be a game in this series where Brown gets a few early buckets one game this series and everything will start to click for him after that, almost forcing Stevens to involve him more in the second half and he will eclipse the 20 mark in his first career playoff series after only doing it once during the regular season. There will be nights where Brown gets pushed aside for some older guys and Gerald Green is always waiting on the end of the bench in case he’s really having a bad night, but Brown will step up in a big way on the offensive end in at least one game against Chicago.
C’s get key minutes from James Young in a win
Getting James Young in the game for a solid stretch of a playoff game will be a lot like when Marquis Daniels randomly came off the bench in game three of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. Daniels racked up just two total minutes over the first two games as Boston dropped both games on the road, but Doc Rivers called upon him for 17 minutes in game three of that series and he scored nine points on 4-for-6 shooting to go along with five rebounds as the Celtics won the game and got back into the series; he wasn’t called upon for any serious minutes again after that game. It shouldn’t get to the point where Boston is down multiple games, but there will be a game where the team gets off to a slow start and Stevens decides to try something now. This will allow Young to get about 15 minutes of playing time in which he surprise a lot of people and performs well, giving the starters a chance late in the game to finish the Bulls off.
Dwyane Wade has a 35 point game
It wasn’t a great debut season for Wade in his hometown of Chicago with injuries and a team that was often in turmoil consistently putting a damper on the season. But we learned last season that a declining Wade can still turn back the clock when called upon in a big moment. The Miami Heat won back-to-back elimination games against the Charlotte Hornets in the first round last year in order to rally from a 3-2 deficit in the series and it was Wade who answered the bell, the Heat also stole one elimination game from the Toronto Raptors the next round before eventually running out of gas and falling in game seven. The future Hall of Famer is widely concerted the best shot blocking shoot blocking guard in NBA history – which is something that has been completely absent from his game the past few seasons – but he was able to record two separate three block games while facing elimination while also twice scoring above 30 points. It’s hard to expect to see flashes of a younger D-Wade every time they take the floor, but at least once in this series you’ll see him come out of a time machine and dominate the Celtics on both ends of the floor to help the Bulls steal a game.
Boston wins a game by 20+ points
There are two Bulls teams out there, a good one and another one that is a complete dumpster fire. Chicago played above their record a number of times this year but they also looked like the worst team in basketball during some games, which eventually led them to a 41-41 record. Just look at what they did down the stretch of the regular season. It was an impressive 8-3 finish that got them here but the losses were to the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks, all games that should have been slam dunks for a hot team charging to make the playoffs. Instead, they wound up winning games against the Cleveland Cavaliers – with their entire “Big Three” playing that night – as well as other playoff bound teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks. There will be a game this series where the bad Bulls come out and the Celtics will take advantage of this and just destroy them. The two teams split their four meetings during the regular season and one of Boston’s wins was a perfect example of this. They downed the Bulls 100-80 back in mid-March; Chicago scored only 26 points in the first half that day.
“National TV Rondo” makes at-least one appearance
There are some sports narratives that hold no truth. Tony Romo actually isn’t the choke artist that people falsely make him out to be and Alex Rodriguez wasn’t a player who only hit home runs when the game was a blowout one way or the other, with 544 of his 696 career home runs coming when the score was within one run or a tie game. However, there actually is a lot of truth to the “National TV Rondo” narrative and we’ll all see that at least once this series. He has been coming off the bench for the Bulls these past few months but he’s still a productive player who is very important to his team’s success. While his role was bigger on the Celtics during the “Big Three” era, there will be a game this series where he takes his 20-25 minutes of playing time and – at the very least – flirts with a triple-double in those minutes.