Despite all the disarray with the Bulls this year, ranging from complaints about benching to awful trades, the team was able to sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed. However, there’s no denying the Bulls have some talented and experienced players on the roster, so there’s no guarantee the Celtics will handle them.
A year removed from missing out on the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-2008 season, the Bulls are back at it once again. Although fans may not be too pleased with the front office or the direction of the team, they can still enjoy the excitement and drama that comes with competing in the playoffs.
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Celtics a 72% chance of winning the series. Clearly, the Bulls are fighting an uphill battle here against a confident team who just bumped LeBron James’s Cavaliers out of the first seed. Led by Isaiah Thomas, the tiny (5’9″) point guard with a huge presence on the court, the Celtics finished seventh in the league in points per game, much better than the 23rd-ranked Bulls. Though the offense runs through Thomas, the Celtics’ second-tier players appear more effective on paper than the Bulls. Boston has four players averaging 13+ points per game (Thomas, Avery Bradley, Al Horford, Jae Crowder), while the Bulls only have Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade above that threshold.
Yet, the Bulls have consistently played quality basketball against good teams for years now. The flip side is that the Bulls frustratingly struggle against bad teams, but in the playoffs, this quirk is a good one. For comparison, the Bulls’ record against above-.500 teams is 22-24 this year, while the Celtics’ is only slightly better at 24-21. Additionally, the Bulls have performed better defensively than Boston, giving up 3 less points per game.
Head-to-head, the teams are even with records of 2-2 against each other this season. The first three were close contests; each decided by seven points or less. However, in the last meeting, the Celtics demolished the Bulls by a score of 100-80. Via K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls had 38 turnovers in the two losses to Boston, while they only turned the ball over 20 times in the two wins. Throughout this series, the Bulls will need to play clean basketball to keep up with the Celtics.
In addition, both teams will focus on neutralizing the others’ star players. Jimmy Butler has already announced his readiness to guard Isaiah Thomas for the whole series, while the Celtics are surely planning on keeping Butler in check. Without those two players, these teams probably wouldn’t make the playoffs.
For me, all factors point to this being a close series. Though the C’s are head honcho in the Eastern Conference, they aren’t as dominant as 1 seeds often are, as they didn’t even reach 60 wins. Boston scores more than the Bulls, but they aren’t some sort of juggernaut. Meanwhile, the Bulls play superior defense, though not by a huge margin.
Less tangibly, the Bulls have an ultra-experienced, clutch player in Dwyane Wade. Resting often during the season, and recently getting significant time off due to injury, he should be fresh for a playoff run. The former Finals MVP and 12-time all-star brings experience and leadership to the table, and 18.3 points per game.
Lastly, the Bulls are confident after winning six of their previous nine games to end the season. Jimmy Butler had this to say about his team’s readiness heading into the series:
“We’re playing our best basketball at the right time. We’re ready to go.”
The Bulls will emerge victorious in a nail-biting Game 7 behind the efforts of Jimmy Butler and rejuvenated Dwyane Wade. Prior to that moment, they’ll have taken games 2, 3, and 6.
All games will be televised on TNT and CSN-Chicago, and broadcasted over the radio at WLS-AM 890.
Game 1: April 16th | 5:30 PM | TD Garden, Boston
Game 2: April 18th | 7:00 PM | Boston
Game 3: April 21st | 6:00 PM | United Center, Chicago
Game 4: April 23rd | 5:30 PM | Chicago
Game 5: April 26th | Time TBD | Boston
Game 6: April 28th | Time TBD | Chicago
Game 7: April 30th | Time TBD | Boston