Saturday, April 15, 2017

By The Numbers: Breaking Down the Celtics vs the Bulls

By Adam Lowenstein (@StatsAdam)

When I previewed the first-round Eastern Conference matchups, I picked the Celtics in five games, as if they were “just another No. 1 seed.” However, as Sean Grande points out, the Celtics own the worst scoring margin of any No. 1 seed since the NBA and ABA merged.

Boston climbed to the top spot after the Cleveland Cavaliers faltered in March and April, including four consecutive losses to end the regular season. The race for the top seed could either be described as the ‘tortoise and the hare,’ or simply no one wanting to have homecourt throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Well, either way, here we are in mid-April, and the Celtics are facing the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs for just the second time since 1987. If the 2009 first-round series is any indication, then we are in for a treat when these two teams tip off on Sunday evening at TD Garden.


Jae Crowder’s 3-point shooting has been drastically different in wins and losses during the past season, and his performance could dictate if this series is short or long.

Jae Crowder’s 3-point shooting in 2016-17 Celtics wins and losses

Wins: 112-for-258 (.434)
Losses: 45-for-136 (.331)

The Celtics are very successful when their defense in on point. They were perfect when keeping opponents to fewer than 99 points this season.

Celtics record when holding opponents to 98 or fewer points in 2016-17: 20-0

The fewest points the Celtics allowed in a game this season was on March 12 in a 100-80 victory over the Bulls at TD Garden.

The Celtics also play well when they control the boards.

Celtics record when not being outrebounded in 2016-17: 27-3

However, only one of those 30 contests was against the Bulls (+11 rebounding differential in the 100-80 victory on March 12). In the other three meetings this season, Chicago outrebounded Boston by more than 16 rebounds per game. Fortunately for the Celtics, the game-high rebounder in those three contests was Taj Gibson, who is now with Oklahoma City.

The most points ever scored by a Celtic in a playoff series is 213 by Larry Bird in the 1984 conference semifinals. At 28.9 PPG (his regular season average), Isaiah Thomas would score 202 points in a seven-game series, which would rank fourth for a Celtic’s total points in a playoff series.

Most Points Scored by a Celtic in a Playoff Series

1. 213 by Larry Bird (1984 conference semifinals)
2. 209 by Larry Bird (1987 conference semifinals)
3. 204 by Sam Jones (1965 division finals)

In a lengthy first-round series against Chicago, Thomas would have a decent chance at surpassing Ray Allen and Paul Pierce for the most points scored in a first-round playoff series, who each accomplished those first-round totals against the Bulls in 2009.

Most Points Scored by a Celtic in a First-Round Series

1. 164 by Ray Allen
2. 162 by Paul Pierce

It's also worth noting that the last 10 playoff triple-doubles by a Celtic were recorded by current Bull Rajon Rondo. The former C's point guard also holds the franchise record for total playoff triple-doubles.

All-Time Celtics Playoff Triple-Doubles

1. Rajon Rondo – 10 (8-2 record from 2009 to 2012)
2. Larry Bird – 7 (6-1 record from 1984 to 1991)
T-3. Dennis Johnson – 1 (1-0 record in 1988)
T-3. Paul Pierce – 1 (0-1 record in 2003)

The Bulls had three triple-doubles during the 2016-17 season, and what a surprise that Rajon Rondo was one of the two players to register one for them this season. But, the Bulls were far from that top when it came to individual triple-doubles, especially in a year where Russell Westbrook set a new standard.

2016-17 Triple-Doubles by Player (23 different players registered at least one this season)

1. Russell Westbrook – 42
2. James Harden – 22
3. LeBron James – 13

T-9. Jimmy Butler – 2
T-12. Rajon Rondo – 1

In terms of the record books, Dwyane Wade has a chance to surpass Larry Bird in all-time playoff points this series. Wade needs just 117 points to move up in the ranks. Tony Parker, who is one spot above Wade, also expects to pass Bird and move into the top 10.

All-time Points Scored in the Playoffs

10. Larry Bird – 3897
11. Tony Parker – 3885
12. Dwyane Wade – 3781

If I were being cautious, I would predict a six-game series, but I am sticking with my Celtics in five pick. With Gibson being shipped out of Chicago, the Celtics can breathe a slight sigh of relief with regard to the boards. However, Wade and Rondo, albeit shells of their former selves, love the spotlight, and who can forget about Jimmy Butler and his ability to draw fouls.

Perhaps they can make this a long series for Brad Stevens and company, who have never won an NBA playoff series.

For more sports coverage, follow Adam Lowenstein on Twitter at @StatsAdam. Statistics used from

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