Celtics-Bulls Preview: Model 'D'

Celtics-Bulls Preview: Model 'D'
January 2, 2014, 8:00 am
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The Celtics defense doesn't exactly conjure up images of a fire-breathing, lock-down group akin to the 2008 champion crew.

Still, for a bunch that was cut and pasted together, these guys have done a pretty good job this season.

They rank favorably in several defensive categories, including a scoring defense that's allowing 96.8 points per game, the seventh-lowest amount in the NBA.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens sees plenty of room for growth.

And the template for what he envisions his team eventually being defensively, will literally be before his eyes Thursday night.

You know them as the Chicago Bulls, one of the league's premier defensive teams ever since former Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau took over as the team's head coach in 2010.

"It's the best compliment I can pay to them, but I'd really like to look like them [defensively] in a few years," Stevens told CSNNE.com. "Their bigs are physical, their guards are active and aggressive. They're somebody we can look up to, to try and become a better defensive team. They are an elite, consistent defensive team."

Despite a season seemingly filled with one key player out after another out with an injury, Chicago has had a steady presence among the NBA's top teams defensively.

Opponents are shooting 43.2 percent against Chicago, the fifth-lowest field goal percentage in the NBA.

Chicago has also limited opponents to just 91.5 points per game, second only to Indiana (88.9).

Stevens is still learning his way around the NBA, but the rookie coach has seen enough to know that there are about a dozen players who can pretty much score at will, regardless of what you do defensively.

So, that leaves a lot of games in which playing really good team defense will result in a victory or at the very least, allow a team to be competitive.

And on those nights when shots for whatever reason aren't falling, a reliable defense will keep things from getting out of hand.

"There are going to be days where it's hard to score," Stevens said. "So you're going to have to go back and set your defense and be as good as you can be. We're not as good as we can be, but we're making strides and progress even if the results don't speak to that."

Here are more keys to the game Thursday night in Chicago:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston's starting five will certainly come out with something more to prove after they were benched for a good chunk of the second half Tuesday in a 92-91 loss to Atlanta. "Most of the time the first group is going to play well, but then there are going to be nights when you need the second group to win games for you," said Boston's Brandon Bass. "That's just team basketball."

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jeff Green vs Luol Deng: Green is looking to bounce back from a down December when he averaged 14.8 points per game, compared to November's 16.2 points per game. When healthy, Deng has been a tough cover. An Achilles injury limited him to six games last month, but in those games, he averaged 22.3 points while shooting with 6.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Whether it's his left hand injury or just a slump, Jared Sullinger has not played well of late. A 13.5 points per game scorer this season, Sullinger has failed to reach double figures scoring in each the past three games, which is the longest such streak he has had this season.

STAT TO TRACK: The higher scoring the game becomes, the better shot teams have of beating the Bulls. Chicago is just 3-13 when opponents score 90 or more points. That includes them being winless (0-7) when teams crack the 100-point barrier.