Celtics-Bulls preview: Outlasting the opponent

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Celtics-Bulls preview: Outlasting the opponent

CHICAGO In Boston's loss at San Antonio on Saturday, it was clear that the Celtics could not put up much resistance to the Spurs down the stretch.

In Chicago's loss at Memphis on Monday, they too sputtered at the end of the game.

As both Boston and Chicago continue their quest to get back into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, both teams will look to improve upon finishing games.

Both teams pride themselves on their defense, particularly down the stretch.

But the ultimate goal every night is to score more points than your opponent, and scoring -- especially in the fourth quarter -- has been at times problematic for both teams.

The Bulls come into tonight's game having won five of their last seven games. They average 23.4 points scored in the fourth quarter this season, but in their most recent losses they averaged 21 points in the fourth.

The gap is even wider for the Celtics.

They average 23.7 points in the fourth quarter which ranks 14th in the NBA. In their last seven games, that number dips to 20.4 points in the fourth which to some degree speaks to why the Celtics are 3-4 during that span.

"At the end of the day, it has to be consistency in what we do," said Boston's Paul Pierce. "We have our schemes and the things we do. If we just do them right on a consistent basis, we wouldn't be inconsistent. When we look at the tape, it's because we're not doing the things we go over during practice."

Finding that consistency will be important for the Celtics against an improving Chicago Bulls team. Here are some other keys to tonight's game as the Celtics try and snap a two-game losing skid.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Celtics took just eight free throw attempts in their loss to San Antonio, so you can expect them to attack the rim more often as well as get the ball to Kevin Garnett early in the post. The eight free throw attempts were the fewest for the C's since they took five in a home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers last February.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Carlos Boozer. Bass is due for a breakout game after shooting just 2-for-8 in his last two games. That wouldn't be that big a stretch against Boozer who is not exactly known as a defensive stalwart.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo has rolled sevens -- as in turnovers -- in each of Boston's last two games. His name is all over the C's record books already, but he'll clearly be looking to avoid adding another historical footnote with what would be a third straight game with seven or more turnovers -- something no Celtic in franchise history has ever accomplished.

STAT TO TRACK: Boston is looking to avoid giving up 100 points or more for the fourth straight game, which shouldn't be too difficult to do against a Chicago team playing without their starting backcourt of Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton. Regardless of the opponent, the Celtics have not had much success when opponents meet or exceed the 100-point plateau with a less-than-stellar record in such games of 3-7 this season.

Bruins go for a defensive project late with Daniel Bukac

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Bruins go for a defensive project late with Daniel Bukac

CHICAGO – The Bruins finished up their 2017 NHL Draft class with a bit of a project, but a 6-foot-5 defenseman with some great skating wheels is a pretty good way to go with a seventh round pick. The B’s nabbed Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Daniel Bukac with the 204th pick in the draft, and admitted afterward that he’s an ultra-big bodied player that could take some time in the development process.

Bruins assistant GM Scott Bradley said Boston is more than happy to be patient with Bukac given the tools that he’s working with as an 18-year-old prospect. Bukac had two goals and 17 points to go along with 38 penalty minutes in his first season in North America after coming over from the Czech Republic, and Bradley said that B’s scouts noted that he continued to improve and get comfortable as the season wore on.

"He's raw. He's a project. [He’s a] kid from the Czech Republic that played in the Western Hockey League,” said Bradley. “At the start of the year - he's come leaps and bounds with his development. Talking to the people - the coaches, the management, and the GM in Brandon, they're very excited about him coming back to Brandon. They're expecting big things from him. We look forward to seeing him in camp."

Bukac is starting to garner some good international experience after playing for the Czechs in the Under-18’s and the Ivan Hinkla Tournament, but this weekend it was all about his addition to the talented group of Bruins prospects in the hockey world.

"I'm so excited to be drafted by the Boston Bruins," said Bukac, who described himself as a solid two-way defenseman with a good first pass. "It's an awesome feeling. I'm so glad that I was drafted by Boston."

Did Suns ask Josh Jackson to cancel his Celtics workout to keep him from Boston?

Did Suns ask Josh Jackson to cancel his Celtics workout to keep him from Boston?

BOSTON – It appears there may be an answer to the mystery surrounding Josh Jackson’s decision to not work out for the Boston Celtics leading up to Thursday’s NBA draft.

While conventional wisdom tells us that such decisions are often made by the agent who in this case is former NBA player B.J. Armstrong.

Boston instead selected Jayson Tatum at No. 3 with the Phoenix Suns scooping up Jackson with the No. 4 pick.

MORE: Danny Ainge on Josh Jackson: 'He didn’t want to play for the Celtics'

During Jackson’s introductory press conference, there was a sense that it wasn’t necessarily Armstrong who strong-armed Jackson into not working out for the Celtics. But apparently, he got an assist from Suns General Manager (and ex-Celtics assistant GM) Ryan McDonough.

A reporter asked McDonough if Phoenix may have encouraged Jackson to cancel his workout with the Celtics who were flying into Sacramento, Calif. to watch Jackson workout only for it to be canceled after they had departed which as you can imagine, did not go over well with Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations.

“I’d like to consult my attorney B.J. Armstrong (Jackson’s agent),” McDonough said, smiling.

The more McDonough talked, the clearer it became that he and Armstrong were in cahoots to do all they could to get Boston to pass on Jackson at No. 3 which as McDonough mentioned, doesn’t break any rules.

“You guys all know my history with the Celtics and the respect I have for Danny Ainge and the organization,” McDonough told reporters on Friday. “But I think you guys who know me well know how competitive I am. Look, it is a competition. The Celtics were ahead of us at No. 3 and they could have selected whoever they wanted to. I think they got a very good player in Jayson Tatum, but that doesn’t mean B.J. and I and … other members of my staff couldn’t talk and try to formulate the best plan to get a player we were really high on to a place we felt he really wanted to go and would be a great fit for him.”

McDonough is right in that no rules were broken if he and Armstrong did decide to work together in an effort to get Jackson to Phoenix.

But to cancel the workout after the Celtics executives and head coach Brad Stevens had left, forcing them to spend a night on the road for a workout that Jackson’s camp probably knew wasn’t going to happen well before the Celtics contingent boarded for Sacramento … not cool.

Here are words I thought I would never say … the Ball clan got it right.

They told Boston from the jump that Lonzo Ball wasn’t going to work out for them, so the Celtics knew he didn’t want to be a Celtic from the very beginning.

Jackson’s actions said the same, but his words kept hope alive that he would work out or at the very least, talk to the Celtics organization – neither of which happened.

He kept referring to the fact that he didn’t think Boston was interested in him when they had the number one pick (that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if they asked him to work out for them; otherwise, what’s the point from the Celtics'  perspective of asking to work out a guy they had no interest in drafting?)

After they traded down to the number 3 pick, a deal that was cemented last weekend, Jackson said there wasn’t time to do a workout for Boston.

The draft was nearly a week away and he didn’t have time to work out for a team that had the third pick overall knowing that the top two picks (Markelle Fultz at No. 1 and Lonzo Ball at No. 2) were essentially accounted for?

“If I could have, I probably would have worked out for them,” Jackson said (with a straight face). “But I think everything worked out for the best.”

Yup.

Boston will once again be among the better teams in the East and will contend for the best record like they achieved this past season before their season ended in the Conference finals to Cleveland. 

Jackson will spend his rookie season playing a lot of minutes with a Suns team that probably won’t win as many games as he did a year ago at Kansas (33).

Enjoy.