The Boston Celtics come to the Land of Lincoln tonight to face off against the Chicago Bulls. This will be game #78 for both sides. First-year headman Tom Thibodeau has guided the Bulls to the top spot in the Eastern Conference at 57-20. Coach Doc Rivers, now in his seventh year in the lead chair for the storied Celtics, has led his recently-changed squad to a mark of 54-23, good for second in the East – three games behind the guys in Red & Black.
If one-time league MVP Kevin Garnett and the rest of the veteran Beantown B-Ballers hope to catch 2011 MVP-race leader, third-year PG Derrick Rose and company, the 48 minutes at the United Center this evening is a must have win.
This game is the fourth and final matchup between these talented teams. The C’s bested the Bulls in two of the first three contests this 2010-2011 campaign, with both victories coming at home. Coach Thibodeau spent three seasons as Rivers’ lead assistant in Boston before he became Chicago’s head coach in the off-season. He knows the Celtics’ roster and helped them set up defensive schemes that limited some of the league’s top scorers and offenses. In fact, Boston currently leads the NBA in team defense, allowing a mere 90.8 points against. Chicago has also taken to Thibodeau’s lock-down philosophy of help-defense and is second out of all 30 teams with 91.5 points against.
The Bulls beat the visiting Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night 97-94. Chicago is an intimidating 34-5 in front of their home fans. They have won their last four games and have been bested in only two of their last 18 games total. They seem to be peaking at just the right time, and a big part of this is that they have their top guys all relatively healthy.
The Celtics are just 13-9 since sending starting center Kendrick Perkins and guard Nate Robinson to the Oklahoma City Thunder for 6’9” forward Jeff Green and 7’0” center Nenad Krstic at the trading deadline in February. This past Tuesday at the TD Garden, the Celts convincingly beat the Philadelphia Sixers 99-82 in a possible first round playoff preview. The Green have played very well at home this year going 31-8, while they are an easier out on the road at 23-15. However, a week ago tonight Boston got perhaps their biggest road win of the year in San Antonio (107-97), giving the NBA-leading Spurs just their fifth loss at home this season.
The road in the East to the 2011 NBA Finals will at some point have to go through the 17-banner Celtics as well as the 6-banner Bulls. With the regular season ending in less than a week, all 16 playoff-bound teams are hoping to close out the 82 with positive momentum headed into the NBA’s exclusive postseason after-party.
Marv and I will be in the booth for tonight’s pivotal game: Celtics @ Bulls starts at 8:00 PM ET on TNT.