Two teams with high aspirations, these last few years meet in a season where are going a little less smoothly than usual. The Boston Celtics are finding it hard to stay above .500 while the Chicago Bulls, surprisingly, struggle to get wins at home.
The last times these two teams met was in mid-December in Chicago. The Bulls won 100-89, as Joakim Noah recorded a triple double of 11 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, while Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng each scored 21 points. Rajon Rondo led the Celtics with 26 points, while getting nothing from their bench.
And the ability of one of these team’s benches to pull through might be the decided tonight, as the Celtics try to restart a winning streak, coming off a home loss to the New Orelans Hornets, 78-90. The Bulls are heading into the game after two straight wins, including 107-105 in Toronto after Luol Deng hit the game winning shot.
Who folds? The Celtics have won 11 of the last 14 meetings — including the postseason — with the Bulls at TD Garden, though Chicago has won nine of 11 on the road and is an Eastern Conference-best 11-5 away from home. Deng’s form might be the key. After a fantastic game against the Raptors, scoring 19 points despite a hurt hamstring, he’s going into a game against a team he’s averaging 24 points against over the last four meetings.
Another player who’s been hot for the Bulls is the always criticized Carlos Boozer, averaging 24 points and 10.8 rebounds while shooting 55.9% from the field during the Bulls’ 6-2 January so far, which includes wins in Miami and New York, both by 7 points.
If the Celtics find it hard to score from the paint as they did against the Hornets in their most recent loss, scoring only 32 points in the paint and a terrible 22.2% from beyond the arc, it’s going to be an ugly night against the Bulls, who don’t play very easy-on-the-eyes basketball, but have the ability, especially on the road, to make opponents look bad.
The key for the Celtics will be Paul Pierce getting the better of Luol Deng in the defensive battle between them and for at least two players, probably Jason Terry and Jared Sullinger, to have a dominant nights in the minutes they get. A good chance is that the team that wins the bench battle wins the game.