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Bulls Thu Apr 16 2009
The Chicago Bulls wrapped up the regular season last night with a home loss to the dismal Toronto Raptors, but thanks to a miraculous 76ers win in Cleveland; the Bulls will be opening the playoffs with a first-round match-up against a Boston Celtics squad that will be without Kevin Garnett instead of the fierce and relatively healthy, Orlando Magic.
The Bulls start their series on Saturday afternoon in Boston and will be looking to steal away at least one victory in Beantown before the series heads to the United Center next Thursday (4/23).
And even though the Celtics are still, well, the Celtics: a defensive titan of a team, with a highly efficient offense led by the bloodless assassin, Paul Pierce, and, oh, by the way defending NBA Champs; without Kevin Garnett the Celts are a very different team.
Garnett is the fierce dynamo that willed the Celtics to the NBA crown last spring, his sheer will and refusal of anything but the best from anyone on his team -that's what Boston tapped into on their way to the trophy. And without that zealous drive/fear of upsetting a borderline psychotic 6'10" freak of athleticism, the Celts will be a ship without a rudder. Albeit, a battleship loaded with ammo and defensive plating, but still sans rudder.
How can the Bulls take advantage of a team without their general? Easy. Exploit the Celtics newly discovered weak spots. KG is an expert interior defender whose presence is so dynamic and imposing that when he's on the court it's like there are six defenders. Without his weakside help, Boston's frontcourt is at serious risk of getting abused by Chicago's faster and more athletic front trio of Salmons, Thomas and Noah. Beyond that without Garnett shoring up the middle, Boston's other bigs: Kendrick Perkins and Leon Powe are going to be looking at a lot of extra minutes and a lot of extra foul trouble. VDN would do well to send Rose, Gordon, Hinrich slashing into the lane early and often.
Defensively for the Bulls, no Garnett means more opportunities for Tyrus Thomas to display his ability/burgeoning hobby of blocking anyone's shot once it enters his airspace. Chicago has a serious advantage in the frontcourt w. Noah, Thomas, Salmons and Big Brad Miller and Aaron Gray coming off the bench. The backcourt? Much more of a murky proposition.
Boston's guards are good, Rajon Rondo is incredibly fast and plays a reckless up & down style that can drive defenses nuts. Derrick Rose will have his hands full matching up w Rondo on D, but should be able to give as good as he takes on the other end of the court. Ben Gordon will be getting lit up by fellow UConn alum, Ray Allen, as, Gordon --for all his offensive prowess-- has never mastered that whole "guard your man" concept. Honestly, VDN might want to move Salmons to the 2 guard slot to match up with Allen, leaving Tyrus to guard the dangerous Paul Pierce and have Ben Gordon come off the bench in a Ginobli-esque offensive burst. Time will tell.
Off the bench the Bulls have a much deeper roster, see: Kirk Hinrich, Brad Miller vs Stephon Marbury and, uhh, Miki Moore? Sheesh.
The verdict? Well, I'm a terrible, terrible prognosticator but, this series has out-of-nowhere upset written all over it. If the Bulls can get Boston's frontcourt in foul trouble early that means LOTS of free throws for the boys in red. Advantage: Bulls. The Bulls should have no trouble controlling the glass. Advantage: Bulls. The Bulls have a much deeper roster. Advantage: Bulls. I'm saying Bulls in six. But, the Celtics are a veteran team with Paul Pierce--he'll single-handedly win at least a game, so Celtics in six is almost as likely.