Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls meet at 8 p.m. tonight at United Center.
Bulls Fighting to Stay Alive
If the Chicago Bulls lose tonight’s Game 6 matchup against the Boston Celtics, their season is over. With that being said, they will be playing as desperately as possible to tie this series up at three wins apiece and send it back to Boston for Game 7.
Chicago will undoubtedly be coming out with a high level of energy as they suit up in front of their home crowd in a potential elimination game. The key for the Boston Celtics is to match it.
Boston had no issue taking Games 3 and 4 at United Center, so it knows it’s fully capable of beating the Bulls on the road in a playoff atmosphere. If the C’s can channel those efforts and counter Chicago’s desperation, they should be able to grab their fourth win of the series and move on to the second round.
Rondo Officially Out
The Bulls were hoping that Rajon Rondo would return from his thumb/wrist injury tonight and help them force a Game 7, but that will not be the case.
Rondo broke his right thumb and tore a ligament in his right wrist on April 18 during Game 2 of the series. He has been practicing lightly over the last few days, but is not willing to risk further damage by playing through the injury.
This means rarely-used backup Isaiah Canaan will start his second consecutive game at point guard, after not registering a single start during the regular season.
Get Thomas Going Early
Chicago’s Isaiah did an admirable job limiting Boston’s Isaiah on the offensive end during Wednesday’s Game 5 matchup.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg inserted Canaan into the starting lineup with the hope that his aggressive, high-pressure style of defense would thwart Thomas’ scoring prowess.
Sure enough, Canaan made an early impact on Thomas, as Boston’s point guard was limited to seven points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field during the first half. As a result, the Bulls and Celtics found themselves in a very tight matchup through the first three quarters.
Thomas was able to heat up in the second half and ended up finishing with a team-high-tying 24 points during Boston’s 108-97 win, but he will look to start off better tonight and shake off the 1-for-10 3-point effort he had during Game 5.
C’s Spreading the Scoring
Boston’s offense has typically struggled this season when Thomas can’t find his shot, but Game 5 was an exception. Boston did an outsanding job of spreading the scoring effort, as six players logged eight or more points.
Thomas and Avery Bradley each scored 24 points Wednesday night, while Al Horford tacked on 21 of his own. It marked the first time that that three Celtics scored at least 20 points in a playoff game since Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rondo did so on June 1, 2012 against the Miami Heat.
Kelly Olynyk paced the second unit with a postseason career-high 14 points, while Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart chipped in with eight points apiece, proving that the Celtics can find multiple scoring options against the Bulls if Thomas gets off to another slow start.
Keeping Butler at Bay
Jimmy Butler could not get anything going on the offensive end during Game 5, as Avery Bradley locked him down from start to finish.
The All-Star forward tallied 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting from the field, and only had one free throw attempt (which he missed) during the entire game. Even with Dwyane Wade picking up the slack by tallying 26 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, the Bulls still lost by double-digits.
Butler has averaged 20.3 points per game during his team’s three losses in this series, while averaging 26.0 PPG during Chicago’s two wins. In other words, when the Celtics limit him on the offensive end, the Bulls do not fare well. So, if Boston can put forth a similar defensive effort against Butler tonight, they should fly out of Chicago with a first-round victory.