Celtics vs. Bulls: Previewreview

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Celtics vs. Bulls: Previewreview

CHICAGO Play well here. Play bad there. The Boston Celtics continue to sputter along this season, showing once again that they can hang with any team in the NBA -- and turn around just as quickly and hang themselves.

The latest team to bury the Celtics was the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls, who pulled away for an 89-80 win Thursday night.

Boston came out attacking from the start, and seemingly had the Bulls right where it wanted them.

"We came out soft in the first quarter," said Bulls coach and former Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau. "They got us back on our heels."

But that soon changed in the second quarter, as Chicago began to assert control of the game by doing what they do best -- rebound the ball.

"It kept us from getting out and running," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, whose team was minus-15 on the boards. "They crushed us on the glass all game and that was the big difference."

However, there were other factors that came into play as Boston lost for the fourth time in its last five games.

We'll re-examine a few others right now.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: You can bet Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has been on his team lately for how freely they have allowed other teams to score. Despite having the third-best scoring defense (88 points per game) in the NBA this season, the Bulls have given up 105 points per game in their last two games which includes a 95-91 loss to Boston.

"Defensively, we have to play a lot better," Thibodeau said. "Our defense has been okay most of the year. But the last two games, it's not where we want it to be."

WHAT WE SAW: As expected, the Bulls did a much better job defensively against Boston. There were several areas that exemplified this, but none stood out more than the rebounding. The Bulls came into the game as the NBA's second-best rebounding team, while the C's were No. 29. For the game, Chicago was plus-15 on the boards.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Ray Allen vs. Ronnie Brewer: Allen is currently trying to snap out of a mini-shooting slump in which he has averaged 7.7 points on 31.8 percent shooting from the field in the C's last three games. In addition, Allen has missed six of his seven 3-point attempts in that span. Brewer is what you'd call an intangibles guy who does a lot of little things to help the Bulls win, but may not necessarily show up in the final statistics. Against the Celtics, that would be trying to continue making Ray Allen an ineffective scorer.

WHAT WE SAW: It took a while, but Ray Allen finally got on track shooting the ball. He finished with 12 points which included 3-for-7 on 3s. Brewer didn't score a single point, but that's okay. His role is to provide energy and solid play defensively. Considering the Bulls got the win, and Allen had a sub-par game, Brewer did his job.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Paul Pierce will look to bounce from an inexplicable performance in Wednesday's loss to Detroit. He had 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting, but never at any point in the game looked like he was ready to take over. Rajon Rondo's career night scoring the ball did have a downside -- it kept Pierce from ever getting into any kind of flow because Rondo had it going with points in the paint as well as from the perimeter hitting jumpers. Look for the Celtics to try and establish Pierce as a scorer early tonight.

WHAT WE SAW: After scoring six points in the first couple minutes, Pierce only scored eight more the rest of the game. Lack of ball movement wasn't necessarily the main culprit in Pierce's struggles. Much of the credit should go to Luol Deng, who once again did a strong job in defending Pierce.

STAT TO TRACK: Rivers was not pleased with his team's lack of ball movement in the loss to Detroit. Indeed, it was an unusual night for the the C's in terms of spreading the wealth. Boston scores via an assist on 64.6 percent of their made baskets, which is tops in the NBA. In the 98-88 loss to the Pistons, the Celtics had 16 assists on 34 made baskets, or 47 percent. For Boston to have a shot at winning, they'll likely need to be trending close to what they normally do in terms of assists to field goals made this season.

WHAT WE SAW: Boston's ball movement wasn't any better on Thursday then it was in the loss to Detroit just 24 hours earlier. The Celtics had 31 made baskets, but only 15 assists. That's just not going to get it done against the Bulls -- or any team in the NBA, for that matter.

Celtics look to end Cavs' recent mastery against them

Celtics look to end Cavs' recent mastery against them

BOSTON – As the reigning NBA champs, Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue is well-versed on the what constitutes a big game.
 
Tonight’s matchup against the Celtics?
 
Yup, it’s a big one.
 
Boston (38-22) comes into tonight’s game with the fourth-best record in the NBA and sits in the No. 2 spot in the East, trailing the Cavs (41-17) by four games.
 
While the Celtics have lost three of their past four, they are still in the middle of a great run in which they have won 12 of their past 16.
 
“They’re playing great basketball,” said Lue, a former Celtics assistant coach. “It’s a big game; [numbers] one and two. We win tonight, we have the tiebreaker on them, a little bit more cushion. It’s going to be a good game for us.”
 
It certainly hasn’t been for the Celtics, losing to the Cavs in each of their past three meetings.
 
And in those games, Boston has given up at least 120 points in each matchup. Despite their struggles defensively against the Cavs, Boston lost the past two meetings by just six points each.
 
Against the top-four teams in the East surrounding them (Cleveland, Washington, Toronto and Atlanta), Boston has a record of just 3-8.
 
Despite the outcomes, the Celtics have shown a tendency to play with greater focus and overall effort against the Cavs, something LeBron James says he sees on a night-in, night-out basis.
 
“I think the whole NBA plays hard and they’re [Celtics] one of the teams that does that as well,” James said. “It’s always competitive every night you step on an NBA court.”
 
You would think that the competitive juices would be flowing even greater tonight considering tonight’s game features the top two teams in the East.
 
Isaiah Thomas has made no secret about paying close attention to the NBA standings.
 
LeBron James?
 
Not so much.
 
“Not me personally,” James said. “It’s all about me; it’s about our team, our process. We come out and play our game every night, then things like that take care of itself.”
 

 
 

Bruins acquire bottom-six forward Drew Stafford from Winnipeg.

Bruins acquire bottom-six forward Drew Stafford from Winnipeg.

BRIGHTON -- Bruins general manager Don Sweeney gave every indication it was going to be a mostly quiet trade deadline for the Black and Gold, and it was . . . right up until the 3 p.m. deadline.

Then the B’s dealt a conditional sixth-round pick to the Winnipeg Jets for forward Drew Stafford. The trade was announced shortly after Wednesday's 3 p.m. deadline.

Stafford, 31, is having a down year due to injuries and ineffectiveness and has four goals and 13 points along with a minus-2 rating on the season, and has played in only 40 games this season after being dealt two years ago to the Jets from Buffalo along with Tyler Myers. The 6-foot-2, 214-pound Stafford was a bit of a Bruins killer during his time in Buffalo and topped out with 31 goals and 52 points n the 2010-11 season. He scored 21 goals and 38 points in 78 games for Winnipeg last season, but compiled a whopping minus-23 mark.

This is a no-risk move for the Bruins, who surrender very little for a player who will give the B’s an option at wing should one of their younger players begin to struggle, or who could potentially replace someone like Jimmy Hayes among their bottom-six forwards.

Other than Stafford, the Bruins stood pat and watched as players like Radim Vrbata, Jaroslav Halak, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog didn’t move ahead of the deadline. The B's weren’t about to move their top prospects and blue-chip assets while in a rebuilding phase, and they were smart to stick to the low-risk/high-reward type move. Sweeney and Company are clearly betting on the group they’ve put together to finish up strong and power into the postseason in the final 19 games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy.