The Boston Celtics may have suffered their first loss since losing Rajon Rondo to injury, but that cannot take away from the fact that they have had a new attitude and commitment to excellence as of late. This fresh approach will be tested in a grand form when the Chicago Bulls visit TD Garden, making for a defensive battle destined to be close.
The season series is also on the line, as a Boston win ensures a tie between the two clubs. Chicago took a 2-1 lead back on Jan. 18 in a game that can only be described as an overtime stunner, and the Celtics will want to have that game shaken off so they can be in full control on their home court.
Of course, that could be easier said than done against the young and feisty Bulls. They have played excellent basketball despite the fact that star point guard Derrick Rose has yet to play this season due to recovery from ACL surgery, and defense has been the name of the game since the season began.
Boston also likes to play defense, which makes for an even greater showdown thanks to the team's overall experience. The stage is set for what is sure to be an excellent contest, and fans should be wise to tune in so as not to miss one minute of action.
Time: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: NBA TV, CSN HD, CSN Chicago
Records: Chicago Bulls (30-21) vs. Boston Celtics (27-24)
Betting Line: Not available as of Tuesday, Feb. 12, 10:35 a.m. EST
Injuries: Rajon Rondo (knee, out), Jared Sullinger (back, out), Leandro Barbosa (knee, out), Derrick Rose (knee, out), Kirk Hinrich (elbow, day-to-day), via ESPN
Key Storyline: Celtics Seek Vengeance for Overtime Loss in Beantown
The Bulls and Celtics last faced each other on Jan. 18, and the result of the game was nothing but a heartbreaker for the Boston fans.
The game went into overtime, and had it not been for an off-balance jumper made by Marco Belinelli in the final seconds, the Celtics would have won. Rajon Rondo was in rare form, scoring 30 points and dishing out seven assists, while the Bulls were carried by 19 points and 20 rebounds from Carlos Boozer.
But the scene has changed drastically in the past few weeks. Rondo will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL, but the Celtics have gone 7-1 since receiving that news. On Chicago's end, the team is dealing with the impending return of Derrick Rose.
More importantly, this game is going to be a test as to whose defense is stronger. Chicago ranks third in points allowed at 91.9 per game and is also sixth in rebounding.
Boston ranks 10th in points allowed at 96.3 per contest, but is second to last in rebounding. This can be attributed to not having a reliable power forward, plus the fact that center Kevin Garnett is 36 years old and starting to slow down.
This means that the Celtics simply need to fight past the factors working against them and stop at nothing to defend their home court. Chicago may be a good defensive team, but it ranks only 26th in points scored.
Boston isn't much better, ranking 18th in that category, but still can do more in terms of scoring than the short-handed Bulls can. If they can take advantage of that and fight past the team's strong defense, then the TD Garden fans could easily go home happy and forget all about that earlier overtime loss.
Key Matchup: Kevin Garnett vs. Joakim Noah
This game is going to be all about defense, especially in the paint. For the fans, this means that they get to see Joakim Noah and Kevin Garnett go toe-to-toe in the quest for victory.
Garnett may seem at a disadvantage since he's 36 years old, but he cannot be counted out. He is averaging 15.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game this season, but has been a different player over his last five games.
Through that stretch, Garnett is averaging 18 points and 10.2 rebounds per contest. From utilizing his jump shot to being an excellent presence in the low post, not to mention his notoriously pesky defense, he has done a fine job of showing that he is anything but down and out in the NBA.
He's going to face a true test in 27-year-old Joakim Noah, who has done an excellent job of stepping up his effort in Rose's absence. The former Florida Gator is averaging 11.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and two blocks per game, and he is making a strong case for Defensive Player of the Year.
However, Noah is at something of a disadvantage against Garnett. He is fighting a foot injury, and his production in three games back since sitting out that same number has not been top notch.
Noah has posted 10.3 rebounds per game in those games, but just seven points while shooting 39.5 percent from the field.
He may not be at 100 percent for this battle, but Noah simply must fight through the pain if Chicago is to have a shot at taking the season series from Boston. He must go after every rebound and not be afraid to take a hard shot against Garnett's strong defense.
Contrastingly, Garnett cannot let Noah's youth intimidate him. He is in his 18th NBA season, and he must use every ounce of experience to show why the restricted area is his territory, refusing to give Noah any sort of advantage.
That alone can make a difference for Boston, who could really use a win against Chicago in hopes of continuing their hot streak.
X-Factor: Jason Terry
As was mentioned earlier, the Chicago Bulls are a strong defensive team with a very hit-or-miss offense. The Celtics' scoring is not exactly elite, but still better than the Bulls' to the point where they can come away with a victory if they can make the important shots.
This means that a good game from Jason Terry would be ideal. He has struggled in Boston's slower system, what with his 10.4 points per game being his lowest posting since his rookie year, back in 2000, but he has been better as of late.
Terry has still managed to make 37 percent of his threes, and his performance over his last five games has been solid. He has averaged just 13.6 points per game over that stretch, but has shot an incredible 54 percent from the field and 44 percent from long range.
Seeing as how he will have a fairly weak defender in Rip Hamilton guarding him, Terry is in a prime position to have an excellent performance against the Bulls. He's likely going to come off the bench as the team's sixth man, and it is essential that he do fine work both from beyond the arc and in the interior.
Terry does a fine job of creating off the dribble as well as driving hard to the basket, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers needs to draw up plays that allow him to do just that against a tough Chicago defense. If he can be an offensive force from multiple spots on the floor, then the Celtics' chances of winning instantly increase.
Predicted Starting Lineups
PG: Nate Robinson
SG: Rip Hamilton
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Joakim Noah
PG: Avery Bradley
SG: Courtney Lee
SF: Paul Pierce
PF: Brandon Bass
C: Kevin Garnett
The Celtics lost a heart-breaker to the Bulls the last time the two teams faced each other, and Boston will have vengeance to close out the season series. Chicago's lack of consistent offensive support will come back to bite it, and the rowdy Boston crowd will carry the Celtics from start to finish.
Paul Pierce will come close to another triple-double, and Kevin Garnett will continue to be a dominant force on the inside. He may get banged up against the Bulls, but Joakim Noah's foot still not being 100 percent will give Boston an advantage in the interior, one that Garnett will milk from start to finish.
Pick your winner!
Boston will also be helped by tough defense from Avery Bradley and a solid scoring performance from Jason Terry. The veteran scorer will hit key threes while also driving the lane for tough layups, and key free throws from him in the fourth quarter will be of a great help.
That isn't to say that the Bulls won't put up one heck of a fight. Luol Deng will continue to be an excellent scorer and defender, and Nate Robinson will continue to show great prowess at the point.
Unfortunately, a key jumper from Paul Pierce late in the fourth quarter will ice the game for the Celtics. The season series will end in a tie, and all that the Bulls will be able to do is walk away stunned.
Boston Celtics 99, Chicago Bulls 95