Celtics Not Typical Top Seed, So Back Bulls to Cover Game 1

celtics bulls

Matthew Jordan

Thursday, April 13, 2017 8:59 PM GMT

Thursday, Apr. 13, 2017 8:59 PM GMT

Three of the four Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series look rather blah on paper. I would argue that the marquee matchup is the one that might look (wrongly) lopsided from a seeding perspective: No. 1 Boston hosts No. 8 Chicago in Game 1 on Sunday.

Chicago Bulls At Boston Celtics

Game 1 of this series tips off at 6:30 p.m. ET on Sunday and is shown on TNT.

The Celtics were the beneficiaries of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ season-ending four-game losing streak and all but conceding the last two of those by resting LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. When Boston was crushed 114-91 at home by the Cavs on April 5, it seemed all but a lock that Cleveland would be the East’s top seed with a one-game lead and the head-to-head tiebreaker on Boston. However, the Cavs didn’t win again and the Celtics won three of four.

It’s the first time since 2008 that Boston is the top seed. That team was a lot better than this one, finishing 66-16 and winning the NBA Finals. By some statistical measures, these Celtics are the worst top seed in many years. For example, Boston's point differential of plus-2.7 and net rating (points per 100 possessions) of plus-3.1 are the worst marks for a No. 1 since the 1978-79 Seattle SuperSonics, although that team won the NBA title.

Boston fattened its record inside its Atlantic Division by going 10-2 against the Knicks, 76ers and Nets, three of the NBA’s worst teams. The Celtics were 1-3 vs. Cleveland, 1-3 vs. Toronto and 0-2 vs. San Antonio, to name three. Also potentially working against Boston is that it has the least playoff experience (5,461 minutes) of any No. 1 seed since the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns. Chicago’s Dwayne Wade (6,380) minutes has more by himself.

The Celtics have a worse defensive efficiency rating (105.5 points per 100 possessions) than Chicago (104.5) and they are a much worse rebounding team. The Bulls ranked third in pulling down 46.3 per game and the Celtics 26th at 44.5. That’s why Boston was looking to deal for a big at the trade deadline.

Despite all those red flags, Boston is -500 on the series line and -7.5 on NBA odds for Game 1 vs. Chicago.

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Butler Story Line

The individual story line of this series surrounds Bulls All-Star guard Jimmy Butler. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge thought he needed a star to get on equal footing with Cleveland in the East. He looked into trading for Butler this past offseason and again at the February trade deadline but wasn’t willing to meet Chicago’s price.

Will Butler be with the Bulls next season? A lot of that could depend on what happens in this series. If the Bulls go out with a whimper, they are likely to go into full rebuild mode and could be more likely to deal Butler. If the Celtics are upset in this series or the next, then Ainge probably has proof he needs a wingman for All-Star Isaiah Thomas. Ainge can offer the Nets’ 2017 first-round pick as part of the package for Butler, who has two years left on his contract after this one.

Butler averaged 20.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists vs. Boston this year as the Bulls split, winning both at home. He hit two free throws with less than a second left for the winning points in one of those. Thomas averaged 24.8 points and 5.8 assists vs. the Bulls.

There’s only so much the 5-foot-9 Thomas can do, however, and the lack of a second scoring option is why many feel the Celtics won’t win the East. Last year, the Hawks upset the Celtics in the first round because Thomas struggled from the field in Boston’s four losses.

 

Key Trends

The Bulls have covered their past five road games vs. teams with a winning home record and are 6-1 ATS in their past seven playing on at least three days of rest. The Celtics are just 3-7 ATS in their past 10 overall and 1-6 ATS in their previous seven at home. Chicago is my NBA pick.

Free NBA Pick: Bulls +7.5Bets Line Offered: BetOnline

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