The Boston Celtics secured the number one seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time since they won their last NBA Championship in the 2008 season.
Head coach Brad Stevens has slowly rebuilt the club since the departures of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, forming a strong unit to have an extremely strong opportunity to compete for the crown.
The form of Isaiah Thomas has been outstanding this term and although he may be just outside the top two contenders for the MVP award – Russell Westbrook and James Harden – his performances should be forgotten.
Al Horford has provided a veteran presence for the club, allowing Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Avery Bradley and rookie Jaylen Brown to deliver consistent displays.
The Celtics may even have surprised themselves by securing the top seed, which with 53 wins is the lowest winning percentage for a number one seed since the Detroit Pistons in the 2006-07 campaign.
Boston will face off against the Chicago Bulls, who backed into the playoffs with a 41-41 record. However, their opportunity to advance to the Conference Semi-Finals is equal to their opponents and with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade in the line-up there is quality to stage an upset.
We’ll now take a look back at the regular campaigns of both sides and break down the betting odds for the series.
The Celtics’ rebuild under the tenure of Stevens has progressed nicely, although they are still yet to win a playoff game with the former Butler coach on the sideline. Boston were beaten heavily by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2015 before losing 4-2 in their series against the Atlanta Hawks last term.
The club were one of many attempting to convince Kevin Durant to join their cause, only for the 2014 MVP to sign for the Golden State Warriors. However, Al Horford signed from the Hawks to offer a strong defensive force in front of the net.
Their season began with a comfortable win over the Brooklyn Nets, with Thomas leading the way with 25 points. However, the Bulls ensured that the Celtics would not enjoy an unbeaten opening month by inflicting a road loss on Stevens’ men.
Boston went toe-to-toe with the Cavaliers on the road, and although they battled well – the club still slipped to a six-point defeat – causing a three-match winless run. However, they were able to right the ship despite further losses in the month to the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs.
December was an important time for the Celtics to establish themselves at the top of the Atlantic Division, winning 10 of their 14 contests. However, the Cavaliers loomed large, losing once again to LeBron James and company.
At the turn of the year they took a step in the right direction and earned an important road win over the Hawks, displaying consistency at home and away, which left them 38-22 at the end of February.
Boston proved their quality by beating the Warriors and the Cavaliers in March before securing their playoff place. Cleveland’s late slip ups allowed them to snatch the number one seed, with Thomas leading their charge down the stretch.
The last off-season saw the departure of 2011 MVP Derrick Rose in a trade with the New York Knicks following the club’s mediocre performance in the 2015-16 campaign. Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol also left Chicago, joining the Knicks and the Spurs respectively.
Rajon Rondo and Wade were signed to bolster the roster and keep the club on course for a push for the playoffs, with Butler remaining the central figure in the team.
Hosting the Celtics was their opening match and they did not disappoint, claiming a six-point win at United Center before defeating the Indiana Pacers and the Nets to remain unbeaten in the opening month.
November proved to be a microcosm of their season as the Celtics ended their winning run, but Fred Hoiberg’s men managed to maintain a .500 record through month, aided by a 40-point display by Butler in their win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Although they produced quality wins against the Cavaliers and the Spurs during December – it proved to be a disappointing month, losing 11 of their 17 contests leaving the club at 16-18 at the end of 2016.
Butler led the response in January with a 52-point performance in a win over the Charlotte Hornets before the Bulls beat the Cavaliers and Raptors in successive matches. However, they still failed to push over the .500 mark, despite their eight wins.
Wade and Butler were the driving force behind wins over the Celtics and Cavaliers in February as Chicago pressed their claim for a playoff spot.
A five-match losing run in March almost ended their challenge, but a strong end to the campaign led by Butler secured their place in the post-season in the eighth seed.
Although the Bulls have a far inferior record to the Celtics, they still managed to split their series against Stevens’ men during the regular campaign at 2-2.
Boston improved as the season progressed, with their younger players becoming more influential, although experience is on the side of Chicago with Wade, Rondo and Butler in their line-up.
Handling Thomas will be the Bulls’ primary concern, with the 28-year-old enjoying an outstanding season, averaging 28.9 points per game along with 5.9 assists.
He has the ability to take the game away from Chicago from the off, with Bradley and Crowder offering support in the final third of the court.
Defensively Smart and Horford will make life extremely challenging for Butler and Wade to keep pace with the Celtics, although Chicago’s fifth-ranked scoring defense could manage to make it a close contest.
The Celtics will be determined to record their first playoff win under Stevens’ tenure, breaking their post-season drought since beating the Philadelphia 76ers in the Conference Semi-Finals in 2012.
As a result, backing the Celtics to win the series and advance to the last four would be a prudent option, with PaddyPower bookmaker at odds of -500 . The Bulls do have talent – so therefore it might be worthwhile betting on them grabbing a win at the least with odds of +210 .
Boston Celtics To Beat Chicago Bulls
Boston Celtics To Beat Chicago Bulls 4-1