Chicago Bulls at Boston Celtics
Time: 7 PM (CT), ESPN
Spread: BOS -3
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Chicago Bulls have been the surprise team through this young NBA season, but it is very young and many are still wondering if their proverbial slipper will fall off. Tonight may offer the first glimpse at an answer, though the hosting Boston Celtics are to be without their starting center Al Horford, who is nursing a concussion.
Even without its new addition, the Celtics are 3-point favorites over the Chicago Bulls tonight on ESPN (7 PM Central) according to NBA oddsmakers at 5dimes.
Boston already is seeking revenge against this Bulls team for an opening night loss that saw Chicago open its season against a road-weary C’s team that played a close game in Brooklyn the night before. Chicago then knocked off Indiana, before its predictable stomping of the Brooklyn Nets. A 3-0 start is something few expected, but the Bulls have done it in the most unconventional of ways.
They are stroking the three point shot, which was widely expected to the the team’s biggest weakness and reason for its lack of success. It is extremely difficult to say that Chicago can maintain their early brilliance, but through three games they have been one of the best three-point shooting teams—not one of the worst.
The Bulls are shooting 42.5 percent from three as a team, and Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade are both shooting over 54 percent from deep. Wade is 55.6 percent on three attempts a game. He shot 15 percent last season.
Where is this coming from? The expected guns of Doug McDermott (questionable for tonight with concussion protocol) and Nikola Mirotic are both firing too, with the forward tandem accounting for 3.7 threes per game between them.
The 6’10” forwards are also combining to average 26.6 points and 10 rebounds per game. That is like “one mega-player,” obviously.
But, is any of this sustainable?
Boston is the ideal team to derail it and send the Bulls back to reality. The Celtics were a top defensive team last season, but have yet to really establish themselves this year. And they gave up 117 points to the Nets (in what was still a 122-117 victory opening night).
A big difference for the 2-1 Celtics has been that Avery Bradley has gone from a “pretty okay” scorer to being a major gun. Bradley is No. 2 on the team in scoring at 21.3 points per game, and he is also averaging 8.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists from the 2-guard spot. Isaiah Thomas also has slightly elevated his game from last year’s All-Star campaign, averaging 24.7 points and 6.7 assists per game while logging the team’s highest PER (24.6).
Thomas and Bradley are quietly one of the best offensive and defensive backcourts in the East, and they have so much depth and talent playing behind them that there is no reason to conserve their energy during games. That should frighten teams.
But will it rattle the Bulls? The Celtics will certain miss Al Horford, who has put in three nice games while adjusting to his new teammates. The versatile big man has averaged 12 points, five rebounds and five assists per game. He and Thomas will be crucial in pick and roll sets this year, with Horford’s mid range jumper and passing opening up entirely new avenues to a team that had relied on the likes of the departed Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk as its two primary P&R options.
Expect Amir Johnson’s role to increase in this game. He has played 18 minutes per game through the C’s first few, but he is a great rim protector whose contributions there sometimes are slighted by the fact he is not a major shot blocker.
Johnson will have to chip in with some more offense, too, but the Celtics have enough depth and enough motivation that they could easily give Chicago its first loss, and its first blowout of the season.
The 3-point spread is giving a lot of credit to an early Bulls start we are not ready to call much more than a fluke yet.