Scouting Update: Bulls-Celtics, Game 6
The Celtics got clutch scoring from Paul Pierce and a "refuse to lose" foul from Rajon Rondo at the end of Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead heading back to Chicago. With four of the five games in this series decided by three points or less, both teams are forcing each other to step up and make big plays to win.
• The Bulls' first adjustment for Game 6 will be to learn from the egg they laid in Game 3, as they came out flat at home and let the Celtics take the fight to them. In their first home game of the series, they were overwhelmed with the pressure of the moment.
Although they won Game 4 and were a possession away from winning Game 5, this is the Bulls' first elimination game, and it brings with it an entirely different set of anxieties and emotions. Coach Vinny Del Negro and his staff will have to channel this young team's focus into the game plan for Game 6.
• The Bulls had a double-digit lead three different times in the fourth quarter in Game 5, and got there with aggressive penetrate-and-kick action from their guards. They spotted up their shooters and spread the Celtics out all over the floor, with Ben Gordon, John Salmons, Kirk Hinrich and Brad Miller all hitting 3-point shots.
This is the area in which the Bulls feel they have the greatest advantage, especially when they play a smaller lineup with Derrick Rose, Hinrich and Gordon on the floor together. This forces Boston to defend the dribble penetration with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, and it's what got Allen into foul trouble and ultimately fouled him out.
Look for more of this in Game 6 as Chicago will try to force Doc Rivers' hand and make him go to a rotation that counters the Bulls' quickness.
• Chicago did get into trouble in key situations offensively when they overpenetrated, taking the ball too deep and forcing bad shots against Boston's inside help. In Game 6, the Bulls' guards must make the kick-out pass before they dribble into trouble.
• Also look for the Bulls to try to get Rose on the move, either by starting him on the baseline to come off screens for a catch on the wing, or by making the pass from the top and cutting him through for the same screening action.
With Rondo defending him by backing off, Rose just stands at the top of the key to make the entry pass, and it takes away his attacking penetration. In Game 6, the Bulls must create scenarios to have Rose more active, and will move him around to give him more ballscreen opportunities and chances to catch and attack on the move.
• Defensively, the Bulls must be proactive and strategic with their personnel and their schemes for the crucial possessions at the end of the game. They allowed Pierce to catch in the same spot, and virtually make the same move down the stretch and beat them in Game 5.
In Game 6, look for aggressive double-teaming of Pierce in those situations. They cannot allow Boston's best player to beat them one-on-one, and it was a foul by Joakim Noah in that same situation that got them the win in Boston. They must be unafraid to make aggressive defensive plays at crunch time.
• The Celtics dug themselves a hole in the fourth quarter of Game 5, and must find some defensive answers in Game 6 if they want to close out the confident Bulls.
The Celtics are having trouble with Chicago's basic stack action of crossing Salmons and Gordon underneath and cutting them to the wings off of screens from Noah, Tyrus Thomas and Miller. This is a basic offensive set that almost every high school player has run, but the Celtics are getting jammed by the screen and losing track of the screener for easy slips to the basket.
The first adjustment in Game 6 must be by Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins, to get off the screener's hip and create more space for Allen and Pierce to get through. This will keep the Celtics' bigs from having to help on the cut, allowing them to stay home and prevent an easy pass to the screener for a layup.
This will give Allen and Pierce an additional route to deny or pressure on the catch, either by chasing their man over the screen or sliding under, which can force a fade cut to the corner. They can't just allow Gordon and Salmons to catch on the wing in the same spot every time. Channeling them to the corner on the fade, although risky if they don't arrive quickly and contest, can make the Bulls' wings easier to guard by crowding them in the corner and on the baseline.
• The other piece of this defensive puzzle in Game 6 is the amount of ball pressure the Celtics put on Rose. Rondo is laying off Rose and allowing him to pinpoint his passes in this set without any pressure, like a quarterback standing in the pocket with no pass rush. It takes away much of Rose's ability to penetrate and create, and jams up the spacing for the high ball screen, but it allows Rose to operate unimpeded.
Look for Rondo to add some pressure with his long arms and big hands, as his length and reach allow him to disrupt without having to move closer and risk a blow-by on the dribble. Rondo will play cat and mouse with Rose throughout Game 6, trying to disrupt Rose's passing rhythm and his concentration on the cutting and screening action.
More pressure also makes Rose's longer pass to the corner that much more difficult if his wings fade for the 3.
• Offensively, the Celtics have been most effective with lots of ball movement and screening action, which keeps defenders in motion and creates driving lanes for Rondo. The Bulls switch on many screening situations, and this puts them in mismatches that Boston, at times, has failed to take advantage of.
Look for the Celtics in Game 6 to screen for Pierce and Allen to try to dictate the switches and mismatches. They can do this with "screen the screener" action, which Chicago has not defended well, or with a simple ballscreen to force the switch.
• The Bulls seem content to allow Davis to pick and pop to open areas, something they would not allow Kevin Garnett to do if he were in the lineup. Davis shot just 4-for-16 from the field in Game 4 in Chicago, but has shot over 50 percent the rest of the series.
• The Celtics must pre-plan their personnel moves if Chicago tries to go to their smaller, penetrate-and-kick offensive lineup. The Celtics utilized Tony Allen and Stephon Marbury in Game 5, so look for them to see more duty if the Bulls are beating Boston off the dribble.
• The Bulls got 30 points from Miller and Hinrich combined off the bench in Game 5. With Chicago playing a seven-man rotation, they will need that same production.
• Foul trouble will be a key for the Celtics, but not just on their thin front line. Ray Allen must eliminate the cheap touch fouls that put him on the bench in Game 5.
With these games being so close, either team could be up 3-2 and either team could have already won the series. But this is an elimination game, a place the Bulls haven't been before. They might come out unafraid and play with reckless abandon, or the pressure could weigh them down and sink them. The Celtics have four starters from their NBA championship team, all of whom won on the road in LA last year, blew out the Lakers in a Game 6 with a 3-2 lead, and won two elimination Game 7s in the playoffs. If that experience hasn't made much of a difference in this series up to now, it should tonight.
Prediction: Celtics win Game 6
Mike Moreau is the director of basketball for the Pro Training Center and The Basketball Academy at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He also serves as an NBA analyst for Hoopsworld.
Synergy Sports Technology systems were used in the preparation of this report.
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