Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Celtics (12.11.17)

Tonight the Boston Celtics come to town to take on the Chicago Bulls at the United Center in the first of four meetings between the two storied franchises. The Celtics have run out to an Eastern Conference best record of 23-5 while the Bulls hit the hardwood looking to extend a modest two-game winning streak to 3 after having knocked-off Charlotte 119-111 in overtime on the road Friday night, followed by a hard-fought 104-102 Saturday night victory over the New York Knicks at the UC.

Just as they have in their last two games, the Bulls need to establish themselves as the aggressors this evening from the opening tip and never slow down. Defensively, they have to keep the lines of communication free-flowing while sporting a scrappy and stubborn personality, going all out after every rebound and loose ball in order to deny the Celtics easy scoring opportunities.

The Bulls also are going to need to pay very close attention the 3-point arc, as Boston ranks 4th in the league in attempts (865) and made triples (319), which comes out to an average of 11.4 3s per game. Boston rookie small forward Jayson Tatum (6’8”, 210 from Duke) is proving to be an elite marksman from downtown as he leads the NBA in 3-point shooting with a score of 52.3% (46-of-88). On the season, Tatum, who is just 19-years-old, is producing averages of 14.1 points, 5.5 rebounds in 30.7 minutes while shooting 51.2% overall from the field and as mentioned above, 52.3% from long distance. Tatum, along with legendary Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Dave Cowens are the only three Celtics in history to record double-doubles in their first career NBA games.

Led by veteran All-Stars Kyrie Irving (24 points, 4.8 assists) and Al Horford (13.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists) the Celtics come in having won 7 of their last 9 games, and this evening they are closing the book on a set of back-to-backs after having defeated Detroit yesterday afternoon in the Motor City, 91-81. It was the 7th time this season Boston has held an opponent to under 90 points. Overall, they boast the top-rated defense in the league with a rating of 99.4 and allow opponents the fewest points scored per game at 97.5.

A primary key each night for Chicago is to wrestle control of the paint and dominate the boards at both ends of the court. Collectively, the Bulls have had a great deal of trouble lighting up the scoreboard, as they come into tonight ranked 29th in scoring (96.9). Thus in order to give themselves a legitimate chance of coming out on top, they’ll need to rule the paint and glass, especially at the defensive end as doing so should lead to easy scores by way of put-backs and/or fastbreak opportunities.

Generally, the Bulls would like to launch anywhere from 85 to 90 shots a game, with 30 or more coming from beyond the 3-point arc. In order to achieve either of those marks Chicago has to play at a fast pace. They have to take control of the ball and quickly move it up the court and share it with one another by making the ball hop from player-to-player and jump from one side of the floor to the other. In order to generate open looks at the basket the ball has to move freely in order to force Boston’s team defense to continually shift and expend extra energy. The Bulls must also draw defenders out from under the basket to free-up driving lanes to the rim. Generously sharing the ball also helps to get everyone involved in the action and in turn forces defenses to scramble and break down.

In short, Chicago’s task tonight is to aggressively hit the floor from the opening tip and never let up. In order to create scoring opportunities, the Bulls need to do a good job of sharing the ball and making sure everyone is involved in the action. Defensively they must also show up with a hardnosed mindset, and commit to outhustling the Celtics in every way possible. As a team, the Bulls have to lay it all on the line by staying focused and poised. They cannot afford to allow Boston any opportunity to slip into a comfortable rhythm.

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