Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls meet at 6 p.m. tonight at the United Center.
Play with Confidence
One thing the Celtics haven’t displayed much of during this first-round series is confidence. That’s a sharp turn from what the team displayed throughout the regular season.
Whoever the C’s faced off with, and amid whatever circumstances, they entered every game with the belief that they could and would win. It hasn’t appeared that Boston has not believed that it could and would beat the Bulls prior to Games 1 and 2, but its collective spirit was broken during both contests.
“I could even hear (Rajon) Rondo, like, ‘Yeah, they gave up. They gave up,’” Avery Bradley admitted after Game 2.
That can’t happen. The Celtics must play with confidence from start to finish during Game 3. If they do, they could find themselves halfway to evening this series up.
Change of Scenery, Change of Results?
One would think that home-court advantage would work to the benefit of the home team. Such was not the case during Games 1 and 2.
Boston’s crowd was energized and enthusiastic prior to each game’s tip-off. However, as the Celtics struggled their way through two rough performances, each game’s crowd became more and more frustrated. Boo birds could even be heard during the second half of Game 2.
Such pressure from the crowd to perform at a high level could very well have negatively impacted the C’s mindset on the court. That’s not an excuse for their play, but it’s a very real possibility.
This time around, during Game 3, the Celtics won’t be feeling any pressure from the crowd. That weight will have been lifted as they play in front of Chicago fans who will be rooting for the Bulls rather than potentially placing pressure on the C’s.
Own the Bench
It was stated on this very website that Boston owned a strong advantage heading into this series in regard to bench players. It certainly hasn’t played out like that.
Bobby Portis came off Chicago’s bench during Game 1 to score 19 points and lead all reserves in that category. Paul Zipser followed up by doing the exact same during Game 2 as he poured in 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting.
None of Boston’s reserves scored more than 13 points in either of the first two contests of the series. That being said, Marcus Smart (13 points, eight rebounds) and Kelly Olynyk (11 points, seven assists, four rebounds) played much better during Game 2.
What needs to happen during Game 3? Well, Boston’s reserves need to give a strong collective effort, and they, along with the starters, must prevent all of Chicago’s bench players from going off.
Brad Stevens made an adjustment during Game 2, substituting Tyler Zeller into the starting lineup for the second half in place of Amir Johnson. Might more changes be looming heading into Game 3?
Stevens admitted during a conference call Wednesday that he’s considering such moves.
“There is a large part of you that watches it and says, ‘You know, if we just play a little bit better in the first through third quarters, we’ll be in better position to have a chance to win,’” he said. “That said, we haven’t done that and they have, and so I think you have to consider anything.”
There are a couple of options for Stevens. He could stick with Zeller at center. He could start Al Horford at center, with Jonas Jerebko starting at power forward. Or, Stevens could look to throw a wrinkle at the Bulls and go small ball, with Jae Crowder at the 4 and Horford at the 5, with Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart or Jaylen Brown – all good rebounders for their size – stepping into the starting lineup.
Options are there. It’s up to Stevens to decide if any of them make sense to use at the start of Game 3.
Attack the Basket
Boston scored 52 points in the paint on 61.9 percent shooting during Game 2. Knowing that, you’d think that the team would look to attack the basket even more tonight.
Interestingly, the C’s, outside of Isaiah Thomas, haven’t put a ton of pressure on the Bulls by taking the ball to the basket. The fact that Chicago’s starting frontcourt of Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and Robin Lopez has combined to commit only 10 total fouls thus far in the series is evidence of such.
Everyone knows that Thomas will continue to take the ball off of the dribble and head toward the basket. Boston would be well served if players like Crowder, Bradley, Smart and Brown join the cause.