BOSTON – The once down and demoralized Boston Celtics are now one win away from their first Playoff series win in as many years after taking Game 5 against the Bulls 108-97 on Wednesday night.
A week ago, all was lost as Boston gave both home games to the eighth seeded Bulls in shocking fashion. Now, the streaking Celtics have turned things around and are looking for a 4th straight win in Game 6 in the United Center on Friday.
Simplifying what shifts have occurred in the series can be hard. The Bulls attacked with ease with Rajon Rondo in Games 1 and 2 and were relentless in attacking the self-proclaimed “worst defender in the league” Isaiah Thomas on almost every play. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has now lucked out with Rondo’s Game 2 thumb injury, which has removed the former Celtic from the last 3 games and the last 3 Boston wins. Rondo will be a game-time decision Friday night after attempting to swiftly recover from a broken thumb. Rondo’s absence has killed the Bulls and left them without a consistent floor general and leader.
Winning the matchups of Avery Bradley on Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder on Dwyane Wade was a necessity for Boston to get back in this series. “They have three of the best defensive wing players in the league”, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said following the loss. Heading into Game 6, Chicago is still a two-headed monster with the likes of Butler and Wade facilitating most of the offense during Rondo’s absence. Wade and Butler took 45% of Chicago’s field goal attempts Wednesday night and were a combined (-12) while on the court. Bradley not only won the matchup against Jimmy Buckets defensively, but scorched the Bulls for a career-high 24 points.
Despite the Celtics shooting a horrible percentage during the first half, Chicago could not capitalize as they took a 3-point deficit into the locker room. “One game soon we’re gonna knock down all the open shots we’re missing, and it might be next game”, Isaiah Thomas said following the win. The Boston backcourt of Bradley and Thomas each scored 24, with Thomas scoring 17 in the second half after changing his headband and shoes during halftime.
The Celtics were able to hold a late fourth quarter lead while frustrating the Bulls into turnovers, technicals, and ultimately only 16 fourth quarter points. Boston missed 31 3-point attempts but were still able to produce baskets by scoring 23 points from Chicago’s 16 turnovers.
Answers are few and far between for Fred Hoiberg’s team who are now facing elimination. Rondo is the variable that can throw a wrench in Boston’s Playoff dreams. Assuming he misses the important Game 6, Chicago will most likely turn to Jimmy Butler to facilitate much of the offense in a 40+ minute game. Isaiah Canaan, Rondo’s “replacement”, was utilized as more of a shooter Wednesday night, but made only 1 of 5 3-point attempts and ended the night with a team low (-13+/-) with ZERO assists in 36 minutes of action.
The Bulls are looking for anyone to step up and make plays, as their offense is being stifled by predictable actions to predictable players. Chicago is missing what Boston was able to produce on Wednesday night, offense and defense while the stars sit. Kelly Olynyk and Marcus Smart led the Boston reserves and combined for 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the night. It remains to be seen who Hoiberg can call on to step-up and take on an aggressive role in a dire Game 6.
What is obvious, however, is that Boston is in the driver’s seat and have still yet to play their best game. As Brad Stevens would say, we’re onto Game 6.