As the season winds down and we get closer to the playoffs, we can clearly see that certain teams have played up to a level that separates them from every other contender. Indeed, there are about seven teams right now that all have a realistic chance of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy; and if history is any indicator, the team that will play great defense and clean up the boards will have arguably the best chance at winning the title.
Last season, we saw the Boston Celtics cruise through the regular season and unleash their defense in the postseason on superstars such as Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Dwight Howard on their way to the Finals. And yet, as good as they were last year, they have been even better this season. Despite battling countless injuries, they have maintained their focus and looked quite dominant throughout this regular season.
For the most part, they are everyone’s pick to represent the Eastern Conference when the NBA Finals begin in June. Except, there is this one team that is slowly climbing the standings and that might give them quite a run for their money. Remember, defense and rebounding. Those things in the postseason will not necessarily make you a champion, but as the Los Angeles Lakers can attest from their Game 7 win in the 2010 Finals, it most certainly helps.
Back in the 2008 postseason, the Celtics faced a Cleveland Cavaliers team in the second round of the playoffs that relied on that exact formula. The Cavs were a solid defensive team that cleaned up their defensive boards and also attacked the offensive boards for second chance opportunities. The strategy helped that Cleveland team keep games low scoring and thus remain close with their opponents despite the gap in talent between the teams. And when the games had to be decided late, they put the ball in the hands of LeBron James and asked him to carry them home. The strategy almost worked, but ultimately the Cavaliers were defeated in a tough seven games series in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Have a look at some of the 2007-08 Cavaliers’ statistics from that season:
|Rebounds per game||44.6||3|
|Offensive rebounds per game||13.3||1|
|Rebounds per game differential||4.2||1|
*Points scored per 100 possessions (obtained via Hoopdata)
**Points allowed per 100 possessions
The 2007-08 Cleveland Cavaliers were by all accounts a decent team that came dangerously close to upsetting the Boston Celtics.
Why the history lesson? Because the 2010-11 Chicago Bulls are a mirror image of that Cavaliers team….except they are better. The Bulls defense this season is arguably the best in the league and also few teams are better at rebounding the ball than they are. Let’s have a look at some of their statistical output so far this season:
|Rebounds per game||44.3||2|
|Offensive rebounds per game||11.8||7|
|Rebounds per game differential||5.4||1|
The 2010-11 Bulls are statistically superior to the 2007-08 Cavaliers in every metric tabulated except for offensive rebounds per game. Nonetheless, their defensive numbers as well as their rebounding numbers are quite impressive.
Furthermore, their offensive efficiency numbers might be quite similar to the Cavaliers’ however one would have to think that Chicago is better equipped to attack the Celtics defense considering the fact that they have a terrific low post threat in Carlos Boozer whereas Cleveland asked LeBron James to generate the majority of the offense. So although Rose is the guy that will be asked to carry the load, he will have a lot of help.
Boozer will hold down the paint, while Luol Deng will provide some perimeter scoring as well as some occasional finishes at the rim. In addition, Joakim Noah might not be a great offensive player, but he and Boozer complete each other almost as well as Method Man and Redman on Da Rockwilder.
Granted, one could argue that the 2010-11 Celtics are better than the 2007-08 edition, but the blueprint to defeat the Celtics is still the same: defense and rebounding. And right now, no one is doing it better than the Chicago Bulls.