Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Celtics (05.07.21)

The Bulls return home after defeating the Hornets last night in Charlotte, 120-99. Tonight's game against the Boston Celtics will complete a back-to-back for Chicago. The Bulls' victory last night was a clean sweep of the season series with the Hornets, but this evening's match is the rubber game, as the Bulls and Celtics have each won once on the other's home floor.

In the last clash between these longtime foes, Chicago was the last team standing, defeating the Cs, 102-96 at TD Garden. Nikola Vučević led the Bulls with 29 points and nine rebounds, and Coby White contributed 19 points and seven assists as Chicago snapped Boston's six-game winning streak.

The Bulls missed their first five shots and fell into an early hole but fought their way back in the game in the third quarter, closing the period on a 24-10 run to take a 74-66 lead into the final stanza. Boston, however, refused to go away, as All-Star Jaylen Brown tied the game at 90 apiece with a 3-pointer with 3:25 remaining. However, Chicago successfully pushed back, jumping ahead 96-90 after taking advantage of a pair of Boston empty possessions, and ultimately escaped with a hard-fought six-point victory.

Brown led the Celtics with 23 points, and fellow All-Star teammate Jayson Tatum posted the first triple-double of his career with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. But on this night, it simply wasn't enough to push Gang Green over the finish line before Chicago got there.

Tonight's tip-off from the United Center is a little earlier than normal at 6:30 p.m. CT due to the game being televised nationally on ESPN. If you can't catch the action on TV, you can always tune into the Bulls' flagship station, WSCR AM 670, beginning at 6:15 for the pregame show. The game is also being broadcast in Spanish on TUDN, Univision 1200AM.

Boston has been playing some solid basketball lately, having won three of their last four games including a 36-point road blowout of the Orlando Magic on Wednesday. In that game, the Celtics offense was really clicking, posting 132 points, shooting 53.1% from the floor and 46.7% from the three-point line. Tonight, they'll be looking to continue on this roll, however, overall, they haven't performed well on the road this season, having lost 18 of 32 games away from home.

Leading the Beantown ballers is All-Star forward Jayson Tatum who is averaging a team-high 26.5 points along with 7.4 rebounds. In addition, he is shooting 39.2% from the three-point line as he has been extremely dangerous from behind the arc.

As for the Bulls, the team has struggled lately, losing four of its last five, although last night's win was a thing of beauty at both ends of the floor.

Chicago's defense was terrific, holding Charlotte to under 100 points and limiting them to just 42.2% shooting. The Bulls also won the battle of the boards, 56-45, and totaled 33 assists. Chicago also torched the twine most of the night, connecting on 50.5% of their attempts overall (46/91), and 48.6% from behind the arc (18/37).

The Bulls come into tonight fairly healthy, with only reserve guard Troy Brown Jr. (left ankle sprain) on the injury report declaring he's out. Boston, on the other hand, will be missing Jaylen Brown with a right ankle sprain. The Cs have listed Romeo Langford (concussion protocols) and Tristan Thompson (left pectoral strain) as probable and Robert Williams III (turf toe) as questionable.

To continue riding the wave of momentum established last night, it's essential the Bulls continue to do a great job of helping each other out defensively in rotating when needed and stay in front of their assigned man when Boston has the ball in its hands. As a united front, the Bulls need to take command of the paint from the opening tip and force the Celtics to react on the fly.

Offensively, the Bulls have to continue to freely pass the ball from player-to-player and from side-to-side. Swift, relentless passing, coupled with persistent ball and player movement, puts a great deal of pressure on the defense to react, and if the stress persists all throughout the game, defenses often fall apart and needlessly foul. Free and easy passing also opens up driving lanes and allows for high percentage shots at the rim.

In order for the Bulls to give themselves a chance to capture the season series this evening they have to charge out onto the hardwood sporting an aggressive attitude and play with an edge for all 48 minutes of the game. They have to commit to battling at both ends of the floor. They also have to stay focused, poised, and stubborn. They need to fight through screens (not slip under), and make sure everyone wearing green and white is looking over their shoulder and keeping an eye out for the nearest exit.

Chicago has to carry this mindset throughout tonight's game and every game from here on out. Counting tonight there are only six contests left on the schedule, and the Bulls are still in the hunt (albeit longshots) to qualify for the postseason. If they implement these approaches, they'll give themselves a shot of keeping their playoff hopes and aspirations alive for at least another day.