Steve Merril’s NBA Fullcourt Report (Monday, April 20)
Bulls at Celtics (-8, 196) - 7:05 pm ET (TNT)
Tale of Two Teams
The Bulls pulled the upset in Game 1 as an 8½-point underdog and they covered from start to finish as they never trailed by more than five points the entire day. Chicago became a better team in late February after they acquired John Salmons and Brad Miller from the Kings. Salmons averages more than 36 minutes per game and finished the regular season ranked second in scoring (17.6 ppg), while Brad Miller averages more than 27 minutes per game and is fifth on the team in scoring (11.8 ppg).The Bulls were just 4-7 SU in their first eleven games with the new lineup, but have since gone 13-4 SU in their past seventeen games. The arrival of the new players helped offset the loss of forward Loul Deng (13.8 ppg) who was injured on February 28th and is now out for the rest of the season.
While the Bulls are improving, the Celtics have become weaker without future Hall of Fame forward Kevin Garnett in the lineup. Boston is a respectable 18-8 SU in all games without Garnett this season, compared to 44-13 SU with him in the lineup, but Boston only wins by an average of +3.4 points per game without the future Hall of Fame member, compared to a +9.1 point average margin of victory with Garnett. The difference is on defense as Boston has permitted only 90.8 points per game with KG, compared to 99.8 ppg without him.
While Boston’s defense has been weaker without Kevin Garnett, the Celtics’ offense has actually been stronger, averaging 103.2 points per game, compared to just 99.9 points per game with Garnett in the lineup. The Celtics have played a more uptempo style with the smaller lineup, while their interior defense has suffered.
Chicago has also shown better offensive numbers during the past two months since the big trade with the Kings. The Bulls have scored at least 101 points or more in 13 of their past 16 games. Chicago’s problem has come on defense as the Bulls have permitted at least 50% FG shooting or worse in five of their past nine games, while allowing an average of 104.8 points per game.
Chicago’s offense has also improved as rookie point guard Derrick Rose continues to blossom into a superstar. Rose tied a NBA record for a playoff debut with 36 points on Saturday in Game 1 and he also had 11 assists. The key to Game 2 will be if the Celtics can make the appropriate adjustments to contain Rose.
“You know, the guy (Rose) is powerful, so even when Rondo can slide and beat him to the spot, Rose is still powerful enough to blow through him, said Boston head coach Doc Rivers. “And I don’t think we supported Rondo enough. Rondo can’t reach as much, but we have to support more. I thought we did both wrong.”
Rondo agreed and commented, “I probably gambled less (Saturday), but I shouldn’t have gambled at all,” the point guard said. “I don’t need to reach as much. I just have to try to keep the ball in front of me and make him take contested 2′s, the elbow shot. He made a couple (Saturday), but if he makes those, then my hat’s off to him. But as a team I think we just need to make him see five (Celtic) guys on the floor.”
Boston dominated the first two meetings this season with easy wins by 96-80 and 126-108 scores, but Chicago has won both meetings with their current lineup which includes a 127-121 home win on March 17th and Saturday’s 108-103 overtime win in Game 1. There was nothing misleading about either victory as Chicago held a 12 and 11 point lead in each win and outshot the Celtics 53% to 49% in March’s game and then 43% to 39% on Saturday.
Game 1 was Under in regulation with just 194 total points and only went Over the posted total of 199 because of overtime. The pace of play was actually faster than the score indicated as both teams shot well below their expected percentages from the field and were a combined 7-for-33 (21%) from three-point range.