Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Celtics (12.08.18)

Tonight the Bulls close out a back-to-back set of games in meeting the Boston Celtics at the United Center. Earlier this season Chicago visited Beantown and the Cs ran away with a 111-82 victory at TD Garden. Six Bostonians recorded double-figures led by Jaylen Brown's 18 points. Kyrie Irving added 17 more to go along with six rebounds and seven assists while Jayson Tatum chipped in 14 points and Terry Rozier came off the bench to net 12. The Bulls were led by backup point guard Shaquille Harrison's 16 points while Jabari Parker added 14.

Gang Green comes into this evening having won four in-a-row, the last of which was a 128-100 thumping of the New York Knicks Thursday night. Once again Irving had a terrific game, leading Boston with 22 points while dishing eight assists. Jaylen Brown also had another fun evening off the bench, shooting 7-of-10 from the field and 7-of-9 from the free throw line to clock 21 points. Starting center Al Horford and starting forward Jayson Tatum also had good games with 19 and 17 points, respectively, as the Cs scored the first three baskets and never trailed throughout the evening.

The Bulls are back in action tonight having taken on the OKC Thunder here at the United Center yesterday.

Under the direction of new head coach Jim Boylen Chicago's offensive plan of attack is to slow things down, running when possible, but mainly setting-up in the halfcourt and grind the shot-clock down in an effort to make opponents burn energy while the Bulls search for cracks to exploit.

Offensively the Bulls need to get all five players involved in the action. They cannot allow their attack to bog down into a series of ball-stopping one-on-one clashes. The ball needs to freely skip from player-to-player and from side-to-side to force the Celtics to expend energy. Chicago also has to be sensible with the ball by not forcing the action with contested passes that can get snagged in midair and fire-up Boston's already potent offense.

After missing more than 20 games last year with a bum knee, Irving is in good health and looking like he's destined for a sixth All-Star invite. He enters tonight averaging 22.2 points and 6.4 assists while shooting 48.5% from the field overall and 39.2% from behind the arc. It's definitely going to take a team effort to keep him in check tonight, and thus Chicago will need to keep their collective heads up and the lines of communication open to deny Irving the ability to get into the paint to wreak havoc. He will constantly look to attack the rim or at least drive just past the free throw line and dish the ball out to an open sniper hovering around the three-point arc.

Chicago's defense is going to have to also pay close attention to the bend as once again Boston is one of the league leaders from distance this season, connecting on 311-of-867 attempts (35.9%) from behind the arc. That comes out to 12.9 made threes on 36.1 launches per game, thus the Bulls need to aggressively run shooters off the arc in forcing to find other ways to put points on the board.

Another interesting battle to keep track of this evening will be between Bulls rookie center Wendell Carter Jr. and Boston's Al Horford. Carter Jr.'s game is often compared to Horford's in that both are smart and savvy with the ball and very capable defenders that can guard multiple positions. The other night in Indiana, Carter Jr. recorded his fifth double-double (12 points/13 rebounds) of the year. Last week in Detroit he posted a career-high 28 points to go along with three blocks. For the season the 19-year old rookie is averaging 11.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 25.9 minutes. Horford, who is in his 12th NBA season, comes in at 12.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks over 30 minutes.

Without a doubt this evening's contest will be another tough test for Chicago. After a somewhat slow start to the season, Boston looks to be rounding into shape and ready to fight for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. In order to keep pace with the Cs this evening the Bulls will need to hit the hardwood in aggressive fashion stay strong-minded throughout the night. Every Chicagoan that steps onto the hardwood must bring energy and make their presence felt in the game. In order for the young Bulls to succeed they have to play with an edge and leave everything they have out on the floor.