Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Celtics (03.05.18)

Tonight the Boston Celtics visit the West Side of Chicago to take on the Bulls at the United Center in the third of four meetings slated between the two storied franchises. Chicago's largest victory of the season came in the first contest, a 108-85 drubbing of the Cs on December 11th right here at the UC. Former Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic and current Bulls postman Bobby Portis led the team in scoring with 24 and 23 points, respectively. Chicago connected on 18-of-25 free throws compared to Boston going just nine-of-14 from the stripe. The C's also turned the ball over 16 times with the Bulls converting those miscues into 14 points.

Gang Green exacted revenge the next time the squads met in Boston two weeks late on December 23rd, 117-92. All-Star Kyrie Irving exploded for 25 points, while second-year forward Jaylen Brown added 20. Portis paced Chicago with 17 points.

The third quarter is where the game was truly decided as Boston held a two-point edge (60-58) at the half. However, the Beantowners immediately went on a 13-2 run to open the third to take a 73-60 lead. By the time the stanza ended the Celtics had connected on 5-of-7 from behind the arc and had outscored the Bulls 38-18 to put the game away.

As for tonight, Boston is hoping to rebound from a tough 123-120 loss to Houston over the weekend, whereas the Bulls are looking to build upon an exciting 108-100 home victory over the Dallas Mavericks this past Friday night.

The Celtics shot a solid 48% from the field against the Rockets, however Houston was able to knock down 19 three-pointers to launch them to victory. Irving had a tough night shooting, going 6-for-17 from the field. The 25-year old floor general is currently averaging 24.8 points on 49% overall shooting. Against the Bulls, Irving is averaging 19.1 points over 18 career games.

In order for Chicago to stay on track this evening they're going to need to establish themselves as aggressors from the opening tip. Defensively, the Bulls must sport a scrappy and stubborn personality, going all out after every rebound and loose ball. As a team, they need crash the boards hard and take command the glass from the beginning, especially at the defensive end, as doing so leads to fastbreaks and easy scoring opportunities.

Chicago must also pay close attention the 3-point arc, as the C's rank 6th in the league in attempts (2,007) and 4th in made triples (753). To put it another way, a whopping 33.8% of Boston's points come from behind the 3-point arc.

As you would suspect, Irving poses as the most serious threat from far way, as he's shot a little better than 40% (162-for-397 / 40.8%) from downtown. Big man Al Horford's jumper has also been true from long distance, as the 10-year veteran has connected on 83-of-193 attempts (43.0%), while rookie wingman Jayson Tatum is also an elite marksman from downtown, ranking 3rd in the league with a mark of 43.9% (82-for-187) from the bend. On the season, the former Duke Blue Devil, who just turned 20-years-old a couple of days ago, is averaging 13.2 points, 5.0 rebounds in 30.5 minutes while shooting 47.4% overall.

To that end the Bulls can't afford to allow their confidence to waiver if their first few shots miss the mark this evening. They also have to keep turnovers in check while persistently pushing the ball up the floor and freely sharing it with one another, having it hop from player-to-player and from side-to-side.

Offensively the Bulls must to open up the floor by stationing their own shooters evenly along the 3-point arc to force Boston's defense to cover a lot of ground. Starting point guard Kris Dunn has to explode out of the gates and establish a fast pace from the opening tip, setting his thoughts to attack-mode in trying to take advantage of every opportunity to drive the ball to the rim.

As a general rule Chicago likes to shoot anywhere from 85 to 90 shots a game, with 30 or more from beyond the 3-point arc. In order to achieve those goals they have to play with pace. They have to move the ball up the court in a hurry and get everyone involved. To generate open looks at the basket the ball has to move freely, forcing the defense to continually shift and expend energy.

In short, Chicago's primary mission is to hit the floor with an aggressive mindset and never back off. To create scoring opportunities, they have to generously share the ball and get everyone involved in the action. Defensively they must sport a hard-nosed attitude, and commit to outhustling Boston in every conceivable way.

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