Playoff Previews: Part 3

Mike Gallagher

We’re back with the third part of our playoff previews. After the Western Conference locked up their matchups a couple days before the finale, the Eastern Conference needed to go the distance to have the matchups set. It looked like Miami was going to be in the mix after their incredible run, but they fell just short due to the Pacers and Bulls being up on the backups for the Hawks and Nets. Per Elias, Miami’s 30-11 record in the second half is by far the best finish for a team to miss the playoffs, topping the previous 26-15 record of the 1970-71 Suns.

Boston Celtics (1) vs. Chicago Bulls (8)

These two teams split the season series 2-2 with the Celtics holding a 8.2 net rating edge, and also both teams held serve at home. The Bulls’ edge on the glass was big time, especially their 31.9 offensive rebounding percentage in those four games. In the two losses for Boston, they only had a 38.7 total rebounding percentage. A lot of this has to do with Taj Gibson, as well.

One interesting note is that the Bulls expected starting five hasn't played against the Celtics. Injuries and trades did kind of mess up what to expect based on the stats, but here we go.

Boston Celtics

Noteworthy Injuries 

One game missed: Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart

Two games missed: Kelly Olynyk

Lineups Breakdown

The Celtics only had their starting lineup for two games, but they absolutely crushed with a 29.3 net rating in those 22 minutes. They did get beat up on the glass, so that is really going to be a trend to watch early in this series. 

One lineup you don’t see on here is what should be one of the sneakier productive lineups in the postseason. The Isaiah Thomas, Bradley, Smart, Jae Crowder and Al Horford lineup was used for 135 minutes on the year, but it didn’t do quite as well as expected with only a 5.0 net rating. Considering the rebounding edge, it will be interesting to see how coach Brad Stevens mixes this group in.

Thriving Players

Isaiah Thomas didn’t have a lot of volume in his four games, but he was marvelous as a scorer. Here’s what his shot chart looked like in those four games:

That’ll make Daryl Morey blush. Thomas getting into the paint and hitting above-the-break treys led to his tidy 67.5 true shooting percentage, averaging 24.8 points, 2.3 boards, 5.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 3.8 treys in those four. 

Thomas’ defense is obviously a liability, but there shouldn’t be any problems hiding him against Chicago. He’ll probably hang a 40-point game in this series.

Amir Johnson was pretty solid against the Bulls, averaging 10.0 points, 6.0 boards, 1.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.8 blocks in 22.3 minutes per game. As mentioned a few times, the rebounding will be something to watch, but also don’t forget about how Nikola Mirotic factors into this one. More on that later.  

Jaylen Brown is a great mystery in this series, but he did play well with his 57.9 TS%. He’ll probably be on Jimmy Butler a decent amount because of how Butler will log so many minutes.

Struggling Players

Marcus Smart made 30.4 percent from the field against the Bulls. Is this struggling for him?


As we all know, Stevens is going to play the matchups. If the Bulls do indeed go with a good amount of Mirotic — I think they will —  you would think that aforementioned small-ball combo will be a staple. Last season, Marcus Smart saw his minutes increase from 27.3 minutes per game in the regular season to 32.3 in the postseason, so I'd expect his playing time to rise. He will likely guard Jimmy Butler a bunch, too. Yeah, he’s not a shooter, but I’d expect him to be valuable in real life and in DFS. 

I can’t wait to see how Stevens uses Jaylen Brown.

Chicago Bulls

Nikola Mirotic was a DNP-CD for two of these games, but that won’t happen this time because Taj Gibson is Russell Westbrook’s teammate now.

Noteworthy Injuries

One game missed: Bobby Portis, Dwyane Wade

The Bulls traded away Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson for Cameron Payne and Joffrey Lauvergne. Not great, Bob.

Lineups Breakdown

Move along. Nothing to see here. The Bulls had some great success on the glass with Taj, so that could be a bad loss for them. Gibson actually had the best net rating among the 10 Bulls to log at least 48 minutes against the Celtics. The Bulls were -16.8 in net rating without Jimmy Butler on the floor, so needless to say Jimmy Minutes will live up to the moniker.

Thriving Players

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Taj Gibson!

Despite not playing in two games, Mirotic was actually pretty good with 16.0 points, 7.5 boards, 1.0 assists, 0.5 blocks and 2.0 treys in his two active games vs. Boston. The Bulls were actually decent when he was out there with a -1.2 net rating, and it’s not like coach Fred Hoiberg can trust Bobby Portis against a team like the Celtics.

Struggling Players

Jimmy Butler was subpar against the Celtics, making 36.2 percent from the field with averages of 20.3 points, 6.8 boards, 3.98 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.3 treys. The Celtics really limited him inside:

Even with that awful two-point effort, he was still able to hit 50.3 TS% thanks to knocking down treys and getting to the line. If the Bulls make this a six-game series, Jimmy will have to be jumping.

Dwyane Wade also had a rough series against Boston. What’s more, the Bulls are actually a much better team with Jimmy alone than with a Jimmy-Wade combo. The Bulls are +0.1 in net rating with Jimmy and Wade, but there is an increase to +5.4 with Jimmy and no Wade. Check out Jimmy’s shot locations with (left) and without (right) Wade: 

Interesting. Not only is he much better at the rim, he also gets a higher distribution at that range without him. Maybe coach Fred Hoiberg can stagger Wade a bit because Jimmy will have to perform well inside for the offense to work.

Obviously, Butler should still be one of the best producers in the playoffs. 


Can I say there really isn’t one? It’s all about Jimmy.

It’ll be interesting to see how Hoiberg backs up Rondo with either Jerian Grant or Michael Carter-Williams. MCW actually fared well against Boston, and it does make sense to have him out there for defense. You’re obviously not using MCW in DFS.


Celtics 4-1

What to Read Next