“It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings!”

Who’d’a thunk that the sidelining of old pal Rajon Rondo would arise to stiffen the still grieving, slightly quivering upper lips of Brad Stevens’s spunky bunch of overachievers?

The plot thickens with even more suspense. There’s been a mystery component to this series from the start – neither team exactly what it appears to be.

For example, we as a fan base – the hoops world as a whole, really – dismissed these Bulls as a mere .500, break-even team that had revamped at the trade deadline … and gone .500 thereafter. They were 11-9 after six weeks of play, 21-21 after twelve, and 30-30 six weeks later. Their longest winning streak was four games, but they lost more than three in a row only once.

On a per-game basis, Chicago took 3.57 more free throws than its opponents, fourth highest in the league. The Bulls misfired in 4.56 FT’s per game, which was seventh lowest. (Only one other team – the Charlotte Hornets, of all people – cracked both those Top Tens.)

Beyond this useful little statistical oddity, a Bulls’ fan could be encouraged by the improvement in the squad’s shooting numbers – at both ends of the floor – during the season’s closing weeks.

18 weeks (30-30)

Bulls FG%: .442 [No. 25] – 3FG%: .325 [No. 30] – 3Par: .238 [No. 30]
Opp FG%: .464 [No. 25] – 3FG%: .365 [No. 22] – 3Par: .291 [No. 5]

Weeks 19-21 (4-8) 

Bulls FG%: .443 [No. 27] – 3FG%: .336 [No. 22] – 3Par: .319 [No. 16]
Opp FG%: .444 [No. 7] – 3FG%: .313 [No. 4] – 3Par: .317 [No. 16]

Weeks 22-24 (7-3) 

Bulls FG%: .455 [No. 17] – 3FG%: .419 [No. 2] – 3Par: .289 [No. 23]
Opp FG%: .422 [No. 1] – 3FG%: .275 [No. 1] – 3Par: .324 [No. 16]

Final (41-41) 

Bulls FG%: .444 [No. 25] – 3FG%: .340 [No. 24] – 3Par: .256 [No. 28]
 Opp FG%: .456 [No. 14] – 3FG%: .365 [No. 6] – 3Par: .291 [No. 8]

Fred Hoiberg’s crew fought off the Miami Miracles by finishing 7-3 over the season’s final three weeks.

On the Boston side of this storybook series, no one could ever have foreseen the tragedy that has befallen the Thomas family at the conclusion to this no-less-storybook Celtic season.

But an open-minded fan saw cause for concern and good reason to keep expectation in check. The wear-and-tear of a long, grind-it-out campaign was beginning to reveal its ugly head about a month before the IRS filing deadline (speaking of “ugly heads”).

Consider the simple matter of foul-line efficiency. Like the Bulls, our boys don’t miss many FT’s – only 4.48 per game, fifth fewest. (Alas, the C’s don’t fare so well in the attempts-per-game differential, -1.70 per game, No. 20 in the NBA.) But over the last six weeks (21 games), the “miss” rate jumped to 5.38 – an even 6.00 for the final three weeks.

Weary legs – and the oft-inevitable shooting woes that can accompany them – might be Boston’s biggest foe. Consider this data – in 34 games this season (but neither Game 1 nor 2), the C’s 3FG% was greater than their 3Par (the percentage of total FG attempts that are three-pointers). Brad’s boys went 28-6 in these games where they (in a sense) MADE more treys than they TOOK.

Actually, making a higher percentage of your long balls than the percentage of your total shots that are long balls has become the norm in the NBA. Boston is one of but six teams who make (.359) less threes than they take (.393). (Worthy of note, that short list includes Houston and Cleveland – the top three teams in usage.)

Stevens’s charges were only two games over .500 when they TOOK more than they MADE.

But quite often, in more deliberately paced playoff competition, winning or losing is determined by out-executing the other guys possession by possession. And while this component of play is not generally where Boston shines (-0.34 possessions per game, No. 19; they are +2.16 and top-ranked in “striping”), the Celtics did outplay Chicago by 2.5 possessions per game in the four regular-season encounters. (Only against Indiana and Utah, whom they trounced by 4.5 stops a game, were the Celts so successful, from among the playoff entries.)

The eighth-seeded Bulls have been on a nice roll of late, including the Garden victories over an emotionally rocked band of brothers. But, as the numbers suggest, Mr. Rondo was pivotal to all that – not to mention that the ebb and flow of their season might foreshadow a regression to their norm.

From the outset, 2016-17 promised to be a season of growth and development in Celtic Land, and so it remains.

Opportunity Knocks.

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