Game Preview: Celtics at Bulls

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – A difficult loss Wednesday night to the Detroit Pistons sent the Boston Celtics (15-13) out on a losing note for their five-game road trip. That trip begins at 8 p.m. tonight in Chicago, when the Celtics will take on the Conference-leading Bulls (24-7).

Thursday’s meeting will be the second between the Celtics and Bulls in a five-day span, as Boston knocked off Chicago 95-91 Sunday afternoon at TD Garden. Derrick Rose did not play in that game, and he’s not expected to be on the court again tonight.

Rose, the league’s reigning MVP, has missed the past three games with a sore back. It is now well known that Rose experienced these back issues during high school but steered clear of them until this recent flare-up. He has seen several back specialists over the past few days and his status is listed as day-to-day.

Although Rose is an incredible asset to the Bulls, they have publicly said that they will not rush him back into the lineup. The idea has even been floated out there that the point guard won’t participate in the All-Star game next weekend.

"If he needs to sit out, he's going to sit out,” Tom Thibodeau recently said. “The medical staff has to clear him first, so it's not like he could just say, 'OK, I'm in there.' What he says is important, but we're going to be smart about it. You want to see him in practice. You want to see how he's moving around, and then you want to see how he responds the next day. There are a number of things that go into it."

Based on those statements, you’d have to think that Rose won’t jump back into the lineup as early as tonight. As we all saw Sunday, the Bulls simply aren’t the same team without him.

Boston won by just four points in that game but it was not as close as the final score would indicate. The Celtics thoroughly outplayed the Bulls and never trailed in the game. Boston led by as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter before Chicago made one final run. Rajon Rondo, who recorded a historic triple-double in the game, iced the win for the C’s with four free throws in the final 21.5 seconds.

Rondo certainly took advantage of Rose's absence and attacked Chicago from the opening tip. He tied his career high in scoring with 32 points in addition to dishing out a season-high 15 assists and grabbing 10 rebounds. He now has a new career high in scoring after dropping 35 points on the Pistons Wednesday night, but he may return to distribution mode tonight against the Bulls.

While it was great to see Rondo attacking the basket and making open jumpers Wednesday night, several coaches and players, including Doc Rivers, alluded to the fact that the C’s were teetering on bad offense as a result of Rondo’s half court scoring.

“I want Rondo to stay aggressive (but) more in transition,” Rivers said. “Half court, that’s when you get the ball to the other guys.”

Those other guys are Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, who have combined to average just 20.0 PPG over Boston’s last two contests. The Celtics snuck by Chicago a few days ago while Rondo was scoring, but he also dished out 15 assists. A similarly balanced performance from the point guard would certainly help the C’s return to the win column tonight and rack up a second consecutive win against the Bulls.

Kevin Garnett’s Availability

Kevin Garnett missed his first game of the season Wednesday night when he became a late scratch due to a sore hip flexor. He suffered the injury Sunday afternoon while playing against the Bulls and was the “latest scratch we’ve had,” according to Rivers.

The good news is that since it was a late scratch, that means the Celtics had originally expected Garnett to be available to play last night. If he was that close to playing, you’d have to think he’ll be out there tonight. However, if he isn’t, the Celtics could be in trouble.

Boston’s defense is completely different without Garnett on the floor. It was the best defense in the league while KG played in the team’s first 27 games of the season, but it fell apart last night without him. Detroit, a team that ranks 28th in the league in scoring, nearly became the first Boston opponent since Dec. 27 to score 100 points. The Celtics need Garnett’s defensive presence, particularly against a Chicago team that has a lot of players who can make shots.

Capitalize on Freebies

There have been two trends for the Celtics over their past two games. The first is that Rondo has been scoring like crazy, and the second is that the team has struggled mightily at the free-throw line. We already discussed the Rondo factor, and now it’s time to discuss the free throws.

Boston made just 18 of its 26 free throws against Chicago on Sunday, good for a percentage of 69.2 percent. It followed that poor percentage up with an ugly 19-for-32 performance Wednesday night against Detroit. That is simply too many free points to leave out there, and the C’s need to change that.

Every point is important when you play good teams. The eight points Boston missed out on against the Bulls Sunday afternoon almost came back to haunt them. If the C’s shot at their season average from the line Wednesday night, that 10-point final deficit to the Pistons would have already been sliced in half. Boston can and will get to the line, but when it does, it must make those trips count.

Protect the Boards

Led by the likes of Joakim Noah, the Chicago Bulls have become known for their tenacity on the glass. They head into tonight’s action ranked second in the league in rebounding with nearly 45 boards per game.

One of the keys to Boston’s win over the Bulls on Sunday was the fact that they competed at a high level in the rebounding department. In fact, the C’s won the battle of the boards by a count of 44-42. That’s a slight margin, but any victory over the Bulls on the glass is monumental.

The Celtics fell back off in regard to rebounding last night, as they totaled just 33 boards against the Pistons. In order to beat the Bulls yet again, Boston will need to pound the glass in the same manner it did against Chicago earlier this week.