The Celtics and Bulls are set to square off for the first time since last season’s playoffs Friday night in Boston, but this meeting could have a different feel with a healthy Garnett on the court.
In one of the most exciting playoff series in NBA history, Boston finally eliminated Chicago with a 109-99 victory in Game 7 on May 2. The seventh-seeded Bulls gave the defending champions all they could handle with a league-record four games going into overtime. The teams played a total of seven overtimes in those contests, also an NBA record.
While Chicago was able to hang with the Celtics, Boston wasn’t at full strength.
Garnett missed 25 games and the playoffs last year with strained ligaments in his right knee and spent most of the Chicago series wearing a suit and a scowl.
Garnett’s presence in the post was sorely missed as Chicago’s Joakim Noah(notes) was able to control the boards, averaging 13.1 rebounds. The Bulls center averaged 7.6 boards in 80 regular-season games.
Without Garnett, the Celtics fell short of winning back-to-back titles, losing to Orlando in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
After defeating Cleveland 95-89 in Tuesday’s season opener, the Celtics crushed Charlotte 92-59 on Wednesday, holding the Bobcats to a franchise-low in scoring.
Allen led Boston with 18 points Wednesday and Garnett finished with 10 points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes.
Garnett slipped on the floor late in the third quarter and appeared to be slow getting up, but he dismissed concerns of an injury, saying he relaxed because he saw his teammates were back to protect against the fast break.
Garnett left the game with 4:06 remaining in the third as coach Doc Rivers rested his aging Big Three to preserve them for the long haul.
“It’s great we could rest our bodies,” said Pierce, who scored 15 points and also sat out the fourth. “The more rest, the better.”
The Celtics had little trouble shutting down the Bobcats, limiting them to 31.1 percent shooting. Trying to contain a Bulls team led by the dynamic Derrick Rose(notes), however, could pose a bigger problem.
Rose made an immediate impact in last season’s playoffs, matching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA record with 36 points in his postseason debut. The rookie was inconsistent the rest of the way, though. Overall, he averaged 29.0 points on 55.7 percent shooting and 9.0 assists in the three wins, and 12.8 points on 42.4 percent shooting and 4.5 assists in the four losses.
Rose missed most of the preseason due to an inflamed tendon behind his right ankle but looked solid in Thursday’s 92-85 season-opening win over San Antonio, finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
The Chicago product showed some of the explosiveness that carried him to the Rookie of the Year award last season and no signs of the ankle pain that had bothered him the past few weeks. After the game, Rose said the ankle was not an issue.
“In the game, I really didn’t feel it,” said Rose, who played 33 minutes.
While Rose will direct the offense this season, the Bulls need somebody to shoulder the scoring load after Ben Gordon(notes) signed a free-agent contract with Detroit in the offseason. Luol Deng(notes) appeared to be up to the challenge.
Deng had a team-high 17 points on 8 of 13 shooting, a good start after missing the final 22 games last season plus the playoffs with a stress fracture in his right tibia.
“I’m happy,” he said. “It was one game.”
The Bulls now try to open with back-to-back wins for the first time since 2002-03.