Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Celtics (10.27.16)

Tonight the new-look Chicago Bulls tip-off the 2016-17 season at the sold-out United Center against the Boston Celtics, who defeated the Brooklyn Nets yesterday evening, 122-117, in Beantown.

With expectations riding high in New England after adding No. 3 overall draft pick, Jaylen Brown out of Cal, and the summer inking of four-time All-Star free agent big man, Al Horford, Gang Green didn’t disappoint the home faithful in sprinting to a comfortable 23-point lead by the middle of the third quarter. Although the Nets made a run late to close the gap to eight points with just a little over two minutes left to play, the Cs held on to come away with the victory.

Boston sparkplug Isaiah Thomas once again looked the part of an All-Star, pouring in 25 points while dishing 9 assists. Blue collar forward Jae Crowder added 21 points, while Brown was the first man off Boston’s bench, and contributed 9 points, two rebounds, two blocks and a steal in just under 20 minutes. The aforementioned Horford also sparkled in his debut, showcasing his typical unselfish, effective style of play, chipping in 11 points, 6 dimes and 5 rebounds. As a team, the Celtics handed out an impressive 36 assists on 48 made baskets, so clearly this squad likes to keep the ball on the move.

Eight new Bulls make their Windy City debuts this evening, led by 12-time All-Star Dwyane Wade and four-time All-Star Rajon Rondo. Also new to Chicago is starting center Robin Lopez and backups Michael Carter-Williams, Jerian Grant, Isaiah Canaan and rookies Denzel Valentine and Paul Zipser.

Chicago’s starting five of Rondo, Wade, Lopez, two-time All-Star Jimmy Butler and veteran power forward Taj Gibson, is talented and savvy. It’s geared more towards an NBA old school mentality of driving the ball into the paint and doling out physical play than the modern day flavor of stationing a legion of snipers some 23.75 feet from the rim and bombing away. However, the Bulls do have a few snipers of their own in the likes of subs Doug McDermott (.425 from distance in 2015-16), Nikola Mirotic (.445 from beyond the arc over the final 22 games of 2015-16) and Canaan (176 three-pointers in 2015-16 with Philadelphia).

Chicago’s formula for success has always consisted of taking the floor with a hardnosed approach and exhibiting a will to out-hustle their opponents in every conceivable way. Tonight will be no exception to that rule as the Bulls defensive strategy will need to center on closing off paths to the basket, especially with regards to Thomas, Brown and Crowder, each of whom love to take the action to the rim. Chicago’s team defense will need to be aggressive and stay tied together, and not allow the Celtics easy opportunities to put points on the board.

Offensively, both teams are at their best when they go on the attack, collecting every rebound possible and then turning on the jets by getting out on the break without hesitating.

For the Bulls to be successful, they’ll need to duplicate what Boston accomplished last night by keeping the ball hopping from player-to-player, and from side-to-side. Chicago can’t afford to fall into the trap of playing a one-on-one game. The ball has to move and not get stuck in anyone’s hands for too long.

Without a doubt, the Bulls need to hit the hardwood with a nasty, but also focused attitude this evening in order to come out on top.