The Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls both clinched their Eastern Conference postseason fate Wednesday, with the C’s earning the top seed and the Bulls No. 8. Does Chicago have any chance to pull the rare 8 over 1 upset?
A No. 8 seed has knocked off a No. 1 in the NBA playoffs five times as Chicago will look to accomplish vs. Boston in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Here are those five:
*-In 1994, the Denver Nuggets, led by Dikembe Mutombo, rallied from a 2-0 series deficit to win the final three games (first-round series were best-of-5 then) and knock out a Seattle team led by Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp that had won a franchise-record 63 regular-season games.
*-The 1998-99 Knicks get an asterisk as a No. 8 seed because it came in the lockout-shortened 50-game season. They won a decisive Game 5 in Miami on a last-second shot and would go all the way to the NBA Finals before losing to San Antonio.
*-The “We Believe” Golden State Warriors in 2007 shocked the Dallas Mavericks, who were 67-15 in the regular season and had the NBA MVP in Dirk Nowitzki. The Dubs won the series six games, becoming the first eight seed to win a best-of-7 series.
*-In 2011, Memphis upset top-seeded San Antonio thanks in large part to injuries suffered by Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, who weren’t 100 percent in the series. The Spurs averaged only 102.8 points per 100 possessions in the six-game series, nine points below their season average.
*-The trajectory of the Chicago Bulls’ franchise this decade changed completely in the first round of the 2012 playoffs. The Bulls had the East’s best record in the 66-game lockout-shortened season, but their title chances were torpedoed when Derrick Rose suffered a torn ACL late in the fourth quarter of Game 1. Joakim Noah would eventually get hurt too and the Philadelphia 76ers won in six games. Rose has never been the same.
Celtics-Bulls Regular Season
Boston is a sizable -500 series betting favorite on the NBA odds, but I wouldn’t completely rule out the Bulls (+380) here as they tend to play to their opponents’ level, be it very good or very bad. Chicago was 4-0 this year against Cleveland and had wins over San Antonio and Golden State. The Bulls also lost to Brooklyn, New York and Philadelphia, to name three lousy clubs.
Boston (39-41-2 ATS) and Chicago (42-40 ATS) split four meetings, each sweeping at home. The Bulls’ two wins came on TNT Thursday night telecasts, and I’m sure you know by now that Chicago is unbeatable at home in those games. The first was opening night, a 105-99 score. The second was the final game before the All-Star break, a 104-103 victory when Jimmy Butler hit two free throws with less than a second left on a questionable foul call on Boston’s Marcus Smart.
The Celtics beat the visiting Bulls 107-100 on Nov. 2 and 100-80 on March 12 in the most recent matchup. That latter game was thus the only one played between the two after Chicago had weakened its rotation by sending Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to Oklahoma City at the trade deadline.
Butler averaged 20.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in the four vs. Boston. The irony here is that the Celtics tried to acquire Butler before the season and at the trade deadline. Should the Bulls upset Boston in this series, it’s likely that Celtics GM Danny Ainge would make an even bigger push for Butler this offseason (or Paul George). Dwyane Wade played in three of the four and averaged 15.0 points for the Bulls.
Isaiah Thomas, having one of the greatest offensive seasons in Celtics history (just sixth player in team history to reach 2,000 points), averaged 24.8 points and 5.8 assists this year vs. Chicago. Avery Bradley played three of the games and put up 15.3 points and 5.7 rebounds. He and Smart will be the guys guarding Butler most of the time.
The Bulls and Celtics last met in the playoffs in 2009, with Boston winning in seven in the first round. No key players remain on either side from then, although the Celtics’ point guard then was Rajon Rondo and he’s now with Chicago.
Boston has won seven of the past 10 regular-season meetings as a favorite as it should be in each game of this series. The Bulls have covered on NBA picks in four of the past five as a dog vs. the C’s.Free NBA Pick: Celtics In 6Bet On NBA Futures At SBR's Top Sportsbooks