Sunday, April 16, 2017
Eastern Conference Playoffs Preview: Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls
In the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the #1 seeded Boston Celtics (53-29) will take on the #8 seeded Chicago Bulls (41-41). The regular season series split 2-2. Game 1 will be played on Sunday at 6:30 PM EST on TNT.
After dueling it out with the Cleveland Cavaliers down the stretch, the Boston Celtics were able to secure the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Isaiah Thomas leads the way for this Celtics team, averaging 28.9 points and 5.9 assists per game on 37.9% shooting from three-point range and 90.9% shooting from the foul line. Thomas has had an MVP worthy season for the Celtics, leading the league in 4th quarter points and guiding his team to the top record in the Eastern Conference. He has truly established himself as an elite NBA player.
In addition to Thomas, the Celtics have another quality guard in Avery Bradley, who is averaging 16.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Bradley is one of the top perimeter defenders in the league, capable of guarding anyone on the perimeter. When you combine him with Isaiah Thomas, you have something scary in the backcourt. Down on the block, the Celtics have Al Horford, who signed with the team in free agency after being with the Atlanta Hawks. Horford is averaging 14.0 points and 6.8 rebounds, giving the Celtics a very sound post presence.
In addition to the trio of Thomas, Bradley, and Horford, the Celtics have other quality players in Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk, and rookie small forward Jaylen Brown. The Celtics have a very balanced team, capable of doing damage both inside and out. While not many people expected the Celtics to get the top seed, they certainly earned it and deserve the respect that goes along with it.
As for the Chicago Bulls, this is a team that has not lived up to expectations. When they got Dwyane Wade in the offseason to go along with Jimmy Butler, lots of people expected this Bulls team to be an upper echelon team in the conference and be a contender. Instead, the Bulls barely squeaked into the playoffs and have had to deal with a lot of distractions caused by Rajon Rondo and rumors that head coach Fred Hoiberg was going to get canned.
In a way, it's a miracle the Bulls still found a way to make the playoffs. For a while there, they were looking like a lost cause. For them, this series is an opportunity to hit the reset button and see what the Jimmy Butler/Dwyane Wade combination can do in the playoffs. The pieces are definitely there to win this series, but the question is will the Bulls play up their maximum potential or will they once again underperform?
If the Bulls want any chance at giving the Celtics a scare, they need to get all they can out of Dwyane Wade, who is averaging 18.3 points per game. Jimmy Butler leads the team in scoring with 23.9 points per game and Wade is the only guy on the team who he can truly rely on to give him some help in terms of sharing the scoring load. If Wade is able to produce above his scoring average, the Bulls could make this series interesting. If on the other hand, Wade struggles and never gets into a groove, this series will be over really quick.
A lot of this depends on the health of Dwyane Wade, who has returned to the lineup after being sidelined with a knee injury. There are major questions of as to whether or not Wade is physically capable of playing up to the level that the Bulls need him to. In his three games back, Wade has averaged 11.3 points per game, which to say the least is not encouraging. Dwayne Wade is really the x-factor to this whole series. If he plays well, the Bulls have a chance to win. If he doesn't, the Celtics will win easily.
In terms of my prediction, I have the Celtics sweeping the Bulls 4-0. Isaiah Thomas is the best player in the series and the presence of Avery Bradley out on the perimeter will make things tough on both Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade. The Celtics are on a mission to get to the NBA Finals and they should be motivated to win this series as quickly as possible. I know I'm coming off as dismissive of the Bulls, but the truth is I don't see this series being all that competitive. If Dwyane Wade were at full strength, it would be a different story, but so long as it will be Jimmy Butler needing to play hero ball, I don't see the Bulls having a prayer.
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