By Don Phillips
Thursday, January 7th
Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls
Chicago lost the first game of the series in Boston. Eight Celtics scored in double digits, including all five starters. Boston made 24 of 28 free throw attempts and the Bulls out-rebounded the Celtics 50-45, but had 18 turnovers for 25 Celtics points. Chicago finished last season’s series with a 2-1 record against Boston, with two wins in a row after losing the first game at home. Boston has not won a season series against the Bulls since 2008-09 (2-1); the Bulls are 14-11 over that time against the Celtics dating back to 2008-09. Chicago is 10-3 at the United Center vs. Boston.
Chicago is now in second place in the Eastern Conference, has a 7-2 record against the top five teams in each conference. The Bulls overcame a 15-point deficit at Toronto on Jan. 3 to get their 20th win. It was the team’s largest deficit overcome in a victory this season.
Chicago set a season high for points scored in a half on Sunday at Toronto with 67, 40 of which came from Jimmy Butler. Butler’s 40 points in the second half at Toronto on Jan. 3 set a Bulls franchise record for most points scored in either half, surpassing Michael Jordan’s 39 set in the second half on Feb. 16, 1989.
According to NBA.com/Stats, Butler either scored or assisted on 49 of 67 Bulls second-half points (73.1 percent) at Toronto on Sunday. The Bulls hit 22 free throws on Jan. 3 vs. the Raptors and are 9-1 this season when making 20 or more shots from the charity stripe. Chicago has made 20+ free throws in each of the last three games.
Gasol notched his 17th double-double against the Raptors on Sunday, which is eighth-most in the NBA. Chicago’s record is 14-1 when its bench outscores the opponent’s reserves. No bench has scored 40+ points against the Bulls since Dec. 9 at Boston, a span of 13 games.
The Bulls have scored 100+ points in seven straight games, averaging 106.7 over that span. Chicago presently ranks first in opponent field goal percentage at .417. Last season the Bulls ranked fourth in the NBA at .435 in that category. Chicago set its franchise record of .421 in 2011.
The Celtics have prided themselves historically on having a good defense and this season they are boasting one of the tops in the NBA. The Celtics are currently the second-ranked defense in the NBA (by Defensive Rating) with a mark of 97.6.
They also are tied for first in the NBA in opponent turnovers (17.0), eighth in defensive points per game (99.0), fifth in defensive field goal percentage (43.1%) and third in defensive three-point field goal percentage (31.6%). Since Coach Stevens came in prior to the start of the 2013-14 season the Celtics have made improvements on the defensive end every season.
Jae Crowder is currently tied for 13th in the NBA with 1.79 steals per game and is tied for 12th in total steals across the NBA with 61. Crowder’s career high in a season for steals per game came during last season when he averaged 0.88 steals per game and he also amassed his highest single season total with 72.
Experts at the best online sportsbook, America’s Bookie, have the Bulls a 5-point home favorite with the total at 203.