How the Bulls Could Charge Into the Second Round
The Chicago Bulls did everything they seemingly could to keep fans on the edge of their collective seats heading into the final games of the NBA regular season. In the tight bottom half of the Eastern Conference, the Bulls went from out of playoff contention, to fighting for a possible six seed, to needing to win their final two games just to edge out the Miami Heat for the final spot in the playoffs again.
Chicago won five of their final seven games in April, including the critical final two, to secure their matchup with the Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The Celtics have played stellar all year, behind an MVP-caliber season from Isaiah Thomas. It will undoubtedly be difficult for the eight seed to knock of the one seed, a feat that has only been accomplished three times since the first round was changed to a seven-game format back in 2003.
One of Boston’s greatest strengths, Isaiah Thomas, could also prove to be one of their greatest weaknesses. There is no question that Thomas is an elite offensive player, averaging 28.9 points per game this season – good enough for third best in the NBA. However, he’s also one of the worst defensive players in the league with an NBA worst -4.17 DRPM (Defensive Real Plus-Minus). The Celtics have great perimeter defenders, and they work well as a defensive unit, but it will be tough to hide him on that end of the floor throughout an entire series. Chicago has three ball-dominant guards that Thomas will have to stop if he wants to stay on the floor. Wade will be rested, Rondo has been hot throughout the month of April, and Butler is one of the best two-way players in the league. Isaiah Thomas will have his work cut out for him and the Bulls will certainly look to exploit him on defense.
If Chicago wants a chance in this series, the Bulls three guards – Wade, Butler, and Rondo – will have to contribute significantly, perhaps most importantly with their experience. While Chicago does admittedly have its fair share of young players who haven’t been playoff tested, Dwyane Wade alone has more career playoff minutes than Boston’s entire roster combined. Not to mention, Rajon Rondo made several runs in the playoffs when he was still a young player with the Celtics, including winning a ring in 2008. Jimmy Butler has also been in Chicago for many playoff runs, and this will be his first chance to lead the team. If things get close at the end of games or if things start to go awry on the court, the Bulls will look to their vets to right the ship.
It will take an all-around exceptional performance from the Chicago Bulls to win this series. Boston is a historically “average” number one seed, posting both the lowest point differential (+2.7) in almost 40 years and the lowest number of wins (53) in the last 10 years by a top seed. If Chicago were to ever pull off an upset as an eight seed, this could be their best opportunity.