Chicago Bulls vs. Boston Celtics Series Betting Preview
The line on the this series has moved a great deal since it’s inception. At first, the Boston Celtics were a -900 and the Chicago Bulls were a +500, but then two things happened.
First, sportsbooks realized they were inviting too much action on the Bulls. The boys in red have been up and down all season, and it hasn’t been pretty for the most part. But they are combined 8-3 against the Eastern Conference’s top-three seeds this year. People weren’t going to invest in the Celtics when they were such heavy favorites; much of the money would have flocked toward Chicago.
Second, and most importantly, All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas’ sister lost her life in a tragic car crash on Saturday, the day before this series tips off. (Our thoughts go out to him and his family during this difficult time.) Though he is still expected to play, there’s no assurances he’ll be able to perform up to his usual standard of offensive excellence
And no one can blame him if he doesn’t. This is a life-altering situation. He could find it tough to focus. The Celtics may find that, even with him in uniform, they have to try scrapping and clawing without their best player. And that’s a problem.
When Thomas steps off the floor, the Celtics instantly become one of the NBA’s worst offensive teams per 100 possessions. In theory, they have the secondary playmaking and overall shooting to combat his absence, but his play style transcends depth. Defenses collapse on every one of his drives. He hits a ton of tough shots and finds wide-open teammates when looks aren’t there. It becomes far more easier for Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and Al Horford to score when he’s on the court, being used as both an on-ball and off-ball weapon.
Luckily for the Celtics, and for Thomas as well, the Bulls are a different beast…in a bad way. Their offense is beyond inconsistent. They don’t take or make a lot of threes, the on-court dynamic between Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler is shaky at best, and their half-court sets often devolve into Butler isolations, which while sometimes effective are also very easy to defend.
To get past a Celtics squad that doesn’t have the best version of Thomas possible, the Bulls will need to hit on a steep number of wild cards. Can they get enough floor spacing from the point guard position, where they’re forced to rely on non-shooters like Jerian Grant, Rajon Rondo and Michael Carter-Williams? Can Butler and Wade coexist alongside any one of those floor generals? Do they have enough rim protection with Taj Gibson playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder?
Will Nikola Mirotic continue to hit more than 40 percent of his threes? Does head coach Fred Hoiberg have the gall and know-how on the league’s biggest stage to bust up his rotation when the situation calls for it, perhaps moving Wade to the bench in an attempt to stagger his minutes from the Butler-Rondo combination?
Whenever that many questions need to be answered, bad things tend to happen. Where the Celtics are deep and versatile, the Bulls are shallow and uncertain. They don’t have a ton of playoff experience outside Rondo and Wade, and their performance this season down the stretch of one possession games is more discouraging than not.
This might not be a series that ends swiftly, because again, the Bulls are weird. They play pretty well at home, and they have been known to detonate on national television.
In the end, though, the Celtics will get their first playoff series victory of the Brad Stevens era, no matter how many games it takes, and no matter which version of Isaiah Thomas they end up getting.
The Pick: Boston Celtics (-470) in six games