Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls meet at 8:30 p.m. tonight at TD Garden.
Rondo Out, Canaan In
Word broke from ESPN late Tuesday night that Rajon Rondo scheduled a late-night workout to test his fractured right thumb and injured right wrist to see if he’d be able to play in tonight’s Game 5. This news was broken just seven days after Rondo originally suffered the injuries during Game 2 at TD Garden.
At this morning’s shootaround, however, Rondo announced that he will not play in tonight’s game.
That means that we’ll see what we expected to see from the Bulls, and that’s Isaiah Canaan in the starting lineup in place of Jerian Grant. Canaan was fantastic off the bench for Chicago during Game 4, totaling 13 points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals for the Bulls. He was a late find in the game, as Fred Hoiberg first attempted to ride with Grant and Michael Carter-Williams.
Canaan is a smaller guard in terms of height, but he is strong, much like Isaiah Thomas. He plays the game with great effort and is a better shooter than Grant and Carter-Williams. The Celtics will need to account for him tonight, and they’ll surely be better prepared for him this time around than they were during Game 4.
Boston turned this series around by snagging Games 3 and 4 at the United Center. Things looked bleak for the C’s as this series shifted to Chicago, but now Boston is on the up-and-up.
This is now effectively a three-game series between the Celtics and the Bulls. Boston has regained home-court advantage, as Game 5 will be played tonight at TD Garden, and a potential Game 7 would also be played on the parquet floor this Sunday.
Best-out-of-seven has now turned into best-out-of-three. Game 5 is surely a big one, as one of these teams will be on the brink of elimination by the end of the night.
Protect Home Court – with Confidence
Speaking of having home-court advantage in a three-game series, the Celtics had better go out and protect it. They didn’t do so during Games 1 and 2.
For one reason or another, the C’s looked lethargic while lacking confidence and energy during Games 1 and 2. They fell to Chicago 106-102 during the first game, and 111-97 during the second game.
Frustration built within TD Garden during both of those games, and boo birds actually fell down on the C’s during Game 2. The Celtics need to come out and play at a high level, or at the very least with a high level of energy and effort, in order to fuel the crowd throughout this contest and use it to their advantage.
Carry-over from Game 4?
Fred Hoiberg made public complaints following Game 4 that Isaiah Thomas is illegally carrying the basketball on “every possession.” Here is his full quote:
“Let me say this: Isaiah Thomas is a hell of a player. An unbelievable competitor. He’s a warrior, everything he’s going through right now. He had a hell of a game tonight. But when you’re allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he is impossible to guard. He’s impossible to guard. When you’re able to put your hand underneath the ball, and take two or three steps and put it back down, it’s impossible to guard him in those situations.”
This was a public plea to the referees and a ploy to put pressure on them during the rest of this series. Coaches typically receive some help from referees after such public statements, so we’ll have to wait and see whether or not Thomas is called for carrying the basketball during tonight’s game.
Robin Lopez played 34 minutes during Game 1, and 32 minutes during Game 2. His playing time dropped all the way down to 21 minutes during Games 3 and 22 minutes during Game 4.
Why, you might ask, considering his strong rebounding and scoring efforts? Because the Celtics are attacking him in the high pick-and-roll.
Brad Stevens’ adjustment to place Gerald Green into the starting lineup and essentially never play with two true big men at the same time has placed Chicago into a quandary. The Bulls simply cannot defend Boston’s high pick-and-rolls while Lopez is on the floor, because he cannot switch onto Boston’s guards and his lack of agility places his teammates in tough situations defensively.
The Celtics were outstanding in the high pick-and-roll during the last two games, and there’s no reason to expect that to change tonight. Thomas will continue to attack the rim relentlessly, and Al Horford will continue to roll hard off of his screens.