BOSTON The Boston Celtics have been a tale of two different teams most of the season. There were the C's before the all-star break, a team that looked more like they were bound for the NBA lottery than the playoffs.
Then there are the Celtics we've seen since the all-star break, a team that has been among the NBA's best. The two-faced nature of the C's this season even manifests itself within games, which was indeed the case in Boston's 87-86 loss to San Antonio on Wednesday.
In that game, the Celtics did very little right in the first half against a high-scoring Spurs squad. And the result was a double-digit halftime deficit. Then came the second half, one in which Boston's defense clamped down. Before you could say, 'Avery Bradley scores again,' the Celtics were back in the game.
"I think they had 53 points the first half?" C's Kevin Garnett said after the loss.
Actually, it was worse. The Spurs had 59 at the half to Boston's 48.
"That was probably the focus of our second half; to be more disciplined on defensive strategy," Garnett continued. "I thought we did that, man. Tough team; there's a reason why they're second in the West."
Things won't get any easier tonight against Chicago (42-13) which has the best record in the Eastern Conference. Boston's ability to go into 'post-all-star break' mode will go far in their quest to knock off the hard-charging Bulls who are looking to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season. Here we'll examine other keys to tonight's game between Boston and Chicago.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Boston's rebounding struggles are an issue unto themselves. But they really become problematic when it comes to second-chance points. You look back at Wednesday's 87-86 loss to San Antonio, and arguably the biggest shot of the night was made by Matt Bonner with less than a minute to play, a shot that came about because of San Antonio's ability to get multiple shot opportunities. No team is better at getting second-chance points than the Bulls, who average 15.9 second-chance points per game which is tied with Utah for tops in the NBA. And it should come as no surprise that Boston, the league's worst rebounding team, is also among the NBA leaders in second-chance points given up. Boston gives up 14.2 second-chance points per game, the seventh-highest average in the NBA.
MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Kevin Garnett vs. Joakim Noah: You thought watching Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan on Wednesday night was a treat? Watching KG and Noah go to battle? Even better. In their last meeting on Feb. 16, Garnett had a strong game with 18 points, 10 rebounds and a blocked shot. Noah also had a huge night, finishing with 15 points, 16 rebounds and most importantly, the victory.
PLAYER TO WATCH -- If he plays, and that's a big 'if' right now, all eyes will be on Derrick Rose. The reigning league MVP hasn't played since March 12 against New York. And even though this will be the fourth and final regular season meeting between these two teams, it's only the second time the C's could potentially see Rose on the floor. He missed the last two matchups with a back injury, and is currently out with a groin injury. However, his status is questionable after he was able to participate fully in Chicago's practice on Wednesday. "I really dont know. I felt good, but me playing (against Boston tonight), I dont know," Rose told reporters after practice. "Im able to run a little bit more, but not at my top speed. Top speed or not, Rose playing at all will only add to the list of concerns Boston has to worry about tonight.
STAT TO TRACK -- Keeping the Bulls from running will be among the many challenges Boston will face. The Bulls average 14 fast-break points per game which ranks 10th in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Celtics defense is only giving up 12.1 fast-break points per game which ranks seventh in the league.