Regular Season Series (Game 4 of 4)

Series starts 11/5

Game 1: Friday, November 5th
Game 2: Friday, December 3rd
Game 3: Saturday, January 8th
Game 4: Thursday, April 7th

Celtics 81

(54-24, 23-16 away)

Bulls 97

(58-20, 35-5 home)

    Coverage: TNT

    8:00 PM ET, April 7, 2011

    United Center, Chicago, IL

    1 2 3 4 T
    BOS 18 25 17 2181
    CHI 26 22 23 2697

    Top Performers

    Boston: K. Garnett 10 Pts, 10 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Stl

    Chicago: D. Rose 30 Pts, 5 Reb, 8 Ast, 2 Stl

    Celtics-Bulls Preview

    DEERFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Joakim Noah has a pretty good idea what to expect on Thursday night.

    The Chicago Bulls host the Boston Celtics in a game that could have a big impact on the race for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, and he anticipates a charged atmosphere at the United Center.

    "I think it's going to be a zoo in here on Thursday," he said. "It's very exciting."

    These, indeed, are exciting times in Chicago.

    With 16 wins in 18 games and the No. 1 seed in reach, the Bulls haven't had it this good since the Michael Jordan championship era.

    They were three games ahead of Miami and Boston at 57-20 after hanging on to beat Phoenix on Tuesday. A win over the Celtics would all but eliminate them from the race for the top seed. The Bulls would salvage a four-game split and be four games ahead of Boston four to go in the regular season.

    The next tiebreaker if they finished with identical records would be conference play, and at the moment, the Celtics are 35-12 with the Bulls 34-13 against the East.

    "It means a lot," veteran forward Luol Deng said. "(The top seed) gives you the homecourt, but also, just having the best record tells a lot about the kind of season you had."

    Big things were expected after a major offseason overhaul that came on the heels of back-to-back 41-win seasons and first-round playoff exits.

    The Bulls fired coach Vinny Del Negro and replaced him with Tom Thibodeau. They were big spenders in free agency, landing Carlos Boozer and adding depth on their bench after failing to sign LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

    Even so, most expected them to finish behind Boston, Miami and Orlando. Well, now look at them.

    Derrick Rose is challenging for the MVP award. Thibodeau is a strong coach of the year candidate, and the Bulls are leading the East even though Boozer and Noah have missed significant chunks of the season due to injuries.

    "You want to go step by step," said Thibodeau, who broke Phil Jackson's club record for wins by a first-year coach. "You focus on each game. You want to put as many things in your favor as possible. Being the highest seed possible is important. You can't say that it's not, but you have to take it step by step."

    Beating Boston would be a big one.

    Beyond that, though, the Bulls realize they also need to address some issues.

    They were beaten on the boards for the third time in five games Tuesday, although they're still outrebounding opponents by a league-high 5.56 per game, and they let a 22-point lead in the second half dwindle to two before pulling out a 97-94 win over the Suns. Noah was a bit out of sync after missing three games with a sprained right ankle, finishing with 12 points and four rebounds.

    "A lot of balls have been coming out of my hands," he said. "I have to do a better job of that."

    The Bulls need to do a better job finishing off opponents. Besides the late drama with Phoenix, they had some defensive lapses against Toronto in the previous game and struggled to put away the Raptors.

    "It's a lot of things we need to tighten up," Deng said. "We all know that. We're not panicking. The last few games, we've got to do a better job, especially in the second half. ... It's stuff that I'm sure we'll sort it out."

    This would be a good time, with Boston coming to town.

    Is it a statement game?

    "No," Thibodeau, the former Celtics assistant, shot back.

    It is, however, an important one.

    "They're a very talented team, they're well-coached," Thibodeau said. "There's not anything that we're doing that they don't know, and there's not anything that they're doing that we don't know. It'll come down to how well we can execute and how well they can execute. They're the defending Eastern Conference champions. Until someone knocks them off, you've got to be ready to compete with them."


    Research Notes

    It's no secret that the arrival of Tom Thibodeau has created a defensive monster in Chicago. After allowing 99.1 PPG in 2009-10 which ranked tied for 13th in the NBA, the Bulls enter Thursday allowing just 91.5 PPG, 2nd best in the league. The -7.8 PPG difference is the 2nd-largest improvement made this season, trailing only the Hornets who are allowing 9.2 PPG fewer than last season.
    On March 2, the Bulls lost at Atlanta after leading by 17 points at the half. Since then, Chicago has gone an NBA-best 17-2, winning by an average of 11 points per game. Over that same stretch, no other team in the league has fewer than four losses (Thunder, Nuggets and Lakers). In fact, the next seven best records over that stretch are held by Western Conference teams. The Magic and Heat are next in line in the East with 11-7 records.
    The Celtics have not been the same team since the All-Star break, in large part to its offense which has not been as potent. Since the break the team is scoring four points per game fewer thanks in part to plummeting shooting percentages.
    The Celtics and Bulls feature the two top defenses in the league, occupying the top two spots in defensive rating and opponent points per game.

    ESPN Stats & Information