Celtics-Bulls preview: Focusing on the finish

Celtics-Bulls preview: Focusing on the finish
March 30, 2014, 10:30 am
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BOSTON — Avery Bradley knew this season would be unlike any he had experienced since the Celtics drafted him in 2010.

But nothing could have prepared him for all the nail-biting losses the Celtics (23-49) have endured this season.

Boston comes into tonight's game against Chicago with an 8-11 record in games decided by five points or less.

The Celtics have been at their worst in close games this month, losing four of their five games decided by five or less points.

Bradley finds himself in foreign territory with all these close losses after the Celtics had a winning record in such games in each of his three previous seasons, and the team's overall record in games decided by five points or less was 43-33.

"It's been real frustrating," Bradley said of the close losses this season. "It's been like that the entire year. We had a lot of close games and even games we were up, we let teams come back."

He attributes it to the team being significantly younger after offseason trades shipped out veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (now in Brooklyn) who often came up with big plays down the stretch for Boston.

"I don't think it's something that happens overnight," Bradley said. "In the past we had a lot of vets. We would always find ways to finish games, even if we were down."

And now the fourth-year guard finds himself as one of the veterans looked upon as a team leader.

"It's been kind of easy," Bradley said. "I don't say much. I try to lead by example, by going out and playing as hard as I can. I hope that rubs off on everybody else. That's my way of leading."

Here are some other keys to tonight's game:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The game day workers at the TD Garden might want to make sure those backboards are even more secure than normal because they will surely get a good workout tonight. The Bulls are shooting an NBA-worst 42.8 percent from the field this season. The Celtics aren't much better. Boston ranks 27th in the league, connecting on just 43.3 percent of its shots this season.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo vs. Kirk Hinrich
There's no love lost between these two uber-competitive guards, and tonight's game shouldn't be any different even if their respective teams are trending in completely different directions. Hinrich is a gritty, physical guard whose style of play can only benefit Rondo as he continues to work his way back to form.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Avery Bradley has been in a nice shooting groove lately, but he'll have his hands full scoring against Chicago's 6-7 Jimmy Butler who has a five-inch height advantage.

STAT TO TRACK: Chicago has allowed an NBA-low 90.7 points per game, and their interior defense is a big reason why. Opponents are averaging just 36.4 points per game in the paint which ranks No. 2 in the NBA this season.