Thursday night’s much anticipated Celtics at Bulls matchup is not a playoff preview.
Well, technically it can be. These two teams could meet in the Eastern Conference finals, but first they have to get there. Teams evolve during the playoffs, these teams will be different by then.
More importantly, no Shaquille O’Neal for Boston tonight. He remains Boston’s X factor but he may not be back until this weekend from a strained calf. Boston needs his size in the paint, his rebounding, his offense from the post to win a title this season. Jermaine O’Neal and Nenad Krstic are nice off the bench guys. They’re not Shaq. Not that Boston can’t win the game Thursday without Shaq — anything can happen in one game — but they need their big leprechaun to win a series against Chicago (or even Miami). They are not the same team with him in street clothes.
True preview or no, this should be fun.
It’s a test of what are seen as the two best “teams” in the Eastern Conference. (Miami would like to be in that conversation, but they will have to shed the “collection of individuals” tag in the playoffs.) Rose, right now, may be the biggest offensive force on either team. But the better “big four?” Boston is better, deeper, more experienced with their best players.
This game also features two of the very best point guards in the game. Rajon Rondo vs. Derrick Rose.
Brian Scalabrine has a unique perspective on this. He played for the Celtics with Rondo. He followed Tom Thibodeau to Chicago (the veteran who understood the defense and could help teach it in practices), he has now seen Rose up close.
Scalabrine called Rajon Rondo “the smartest basketball player I’ve ever played with.”
As for the other side, “Derrick has the ability to dominate the game with a variety of shots.”
There are other fascinating match ups. Kevin Garnett on Carlos Boozer will be fun to watch. Luol Deng’s long arms trying to disrupt Paul Pierce’s shot.
It will be interesting to see how Thibodeau defends Boston. But if he has a real trick, a real secret he thinks will work, you will not see it tonight. He will save it for a bigger stage.
This game still matters. Chicago’s magic number to clinch the top seed in the East is three. Win Thursday and it is one. Lose and they still probably win the top seed, but they’re going to have to work a little harder for it down the stretch.
Thibodeau knows the value of some rest (even with a younger team). He’d like to get the win tonight. His charges would like to make a statement about who is the best in the East. Boston needs the win to keep their hopes of catching Chicago alive, but just as importantly to move another game ahead of Miami for the two seed. And home court in the second round.
Both teams have reason to win. Both teams are going to play hard and bring it.
Just don’t think this game represents how a playoff series plays out.