Game Preview: Bulls at Celtics

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BOSTON – The “first half” of the NBA season officially ends for the Boston Celtics (27-24) and Chicago Bulls (30-21) at 7:30 p.m. tonight when they meet in TD Garden. This will be the final game on both teams’ schedule before they head into the All-Star break.

Wednesday’s game will also mark the final meeting between Boston and Chicago this season. It will be played without either team’s All-Star point guard, as Derrick Rose continues to rehab his repaired ACL and Rajon Rondo recovers from surgery on his torn ACL.

The previous meeting between these two teams took place on Jan. 18 in Boston and it was an instant classic. Neither the Celtics nor the Bulls led by more than 10 points in that game and they needed an extra five minutes of basketball to settle the matchup.

Several plays went Chicago’s way in the final minute of regulation, including Kirk Hinrich's 15-foot jumper with 2.0 seconds left that sent the game into overtime. Marco Belinelli then gave the Bulls a victory when he hit a falling, fade-away jumper in the final seconds of overtime that crushed the hearts of the Celtics and their fans.

The game was particularly bothersome to Boston because it had grinded through the entire second half to put itself in position to win the game. Rondo and Jason Terry had hit critical jumpers to give the Celtics a lead toward the end of regulation and overtime, respectively, but Boston coughed the game up in the final seconds of both frames.

With that being said, the Bulls had just as much of a right to claim that contest as theirs. They overcame the absence of both Rose, who did not play, and Luol Deng, who played less than 27 minutes before straining his hamstring and exiting the game.

Bulls Celebrate

This was the scene after the Bulls downed the C's in overtime on Jan. 18.
NBAE/Getty Images

Chicago hung in for the victory without those key stars thanks to impressive performances from several other players. Carlos Boozer dominated the paint with 19 points and 20 rebounds while his frontcourt partner, Joakim Noah, notched 14 points and 13 rebounds. Six Bulls scored in double-figures that night, led by Richard Hamilton’s 20 points.

There is no doubt that these teams’ previous meeting will be fresh on the minds of the Celtics tonight. Boston would love to exact revenge on Chicago and head into the break having won eight of their last nine games.

Winning Without Rondo

The Celtics have done a great job of winning games without Rondo but tonight’s contest will be quite the challenge. Boston had the advantage over Chicago in the first three meetings of the season because Rondo dominated the Rose-less Bulls. Rondo won’t be there tonight to score 30 points and account for 46.7 percent of his team’s assists like he did on Jan. 18.

How will Boston overcome his absence? The same way it has since Rondo went out – with ball movement. The Celtics have done a fantastic job of sharing the ball on offense over the past two weeks and that will need to continue against a great defensive team like the Bulls.

Boozer the Bruiser?

As we noted earlier, Boozer had a monster game against the Celtics in January. Boston had no answer for him around the basket during his 43 minutes of playing time.

There’s someone on Boston’s roster who is likely to take exception to that, and his name is Kevin Garnett. Brandon Bass will probably be Boozer’s defender at the start of the game but Garnett should see plenty of time against Boozer as well. He and the rest of the Celtics’ frontline must keep tabs on the big man and keep him under control. Another big game by Boozer could propel the Bulls into the victory lane.

Doc’s Rotation

News came down yesterday that the Celtics had a player suffer a season-ending injury for the third time in a span of just 18 days. Leandro Barbosa is the latest casualty, as he tore his left ACL during Monday’s contest in Charlotte.

Barbosa’s loss means that the Celtics currently have one – that’s right one - active guard on their bench. That guard, Terry, is a very good player, but Rivers’ perimeter rotation is now severely hamstrung. He’s probably going to need to play both Paul Pierce and Jeff Green at shooting guard during this game.