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Game 3 Preview: Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls

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Boston’s task in slowing down the Chicago Bulls in Game 2 was to limit Chicago’s offensive rebounds, limit their role players and make sure they kept Isaiah Thomas cooking.

None of those things happened in Game 2.

The rebounding differential was much better in this game, with Chicago only outrebounding the Celtics by five this time. However, most of Chicago’s offensive rebounds came in the first half, which is when the Bulls established pace and momentum and never really looked back. The final numbers don’t do it justice. The Bulls hauled in a ton of timely offensive boards that just frustrated the smaller Celtics lineup on Tuesday night.

In fact, the trend after two games of this series is that size is proving to be a problem for the Celtics. Once again, Robin Lopez, easily the tallest player on the floor at any given time, looked like Bill Russell against the undersized Celtics, hauling in eight rebounds (five of which came on the offensive glass) and pouring in 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting.

That height caused problems for Boston on the other end, too, as Isaiah Thomas scored only 20 hard-earned points on 6-for-15 shooting. He attacked the basket all night looking for calls, but instead of getting the whistles he clearly was hoping for, Thomas just ran into a bunch of tall players that either contested or flat-out blocked his shot outright. There was one Jimmy Butler block on Thomas that looked like a Kerri Walsh Jennings volleyball spike. It was just one of those nights for Thomas and the Celtics.

As for stopping Chicago’s role players, at least Bobby Portis wasn’t a factor. Beyond Lopez and his big night, the Bulls saw respectable games from Nikola Mirotic (13 points) and rookie Paul Zipser (16 points). Rajon Rondo was Chicago’s best player by a longshot, falling just a single rebound shy of a triple-double and threading needles all night long. Even Wade, who has looked a little slow this series, poured in a team-high 22 points and knocked down a trio of three-pointers.

Simply put, Boston failed to slow down Chicago’s role players and couldn’t follow through on their game plan. The TNT Bulls are a thing in the postseason too, apparently. Long live the TNT Bulls.

Game 3, as luck would have it for Celtics fans, will not be broadcast on TNT. Boston will take whatever they can get at the moment, but nothing in the game plan for Game 3 is different. They’ve got to play bigger, rebound better and not allow the opposing team’s fourth-best player to dictate the series just because he’s seven feet tall.

There’s a confidence issue right now with the Celtics, a dejection in their faces that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the series, especially heading out onto the road for two games down 0-2. There have been 23 instances in league history where a team went into Game 3 down 0-2 after losing the first two games at home. Only three of those teams actually won their seven-game series anyway. Hence, the dejection.

The raucous Chicago fans aren’t going to make it easy on Boston, but the Celtics have to find a way to get their groove back. They can do that by playing smarter defense, by playing bigger and by getting someone other than Thomas cooking offensively.

After two games, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, though. Boston’s going to win a game or two in this series, but to win four out of five with the way they’re playing right now doesn’t look likely.

Who Wins Game 3?

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Chicago is rolling and seems to have Boston’s number. The Bulls’ first playoff game at home this year in front of fans ecstatic to have the team overperforming right now is going to be a hard one to steal, even if it is airing on ESPN. As such, Chicago will go up 3-0 on Friday night at the United Center.

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About Joel Brigham

Joel Brigham

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.