BOSTON – Well, here we are. Reality set in late Tuesday night in Boston as the number one seeded and home court dominant Celtics were iced out of Game Two after a Dwyane Wade 25 footer with 5:18 left in the game. Shockingly, that bucket put the once lowly Bulls up 19 and in the driver’s seat for a surprising first round upset.
Chicago had been the better team in Game One and followed that performance with an ever better one on Tuesday. Exploiting the Celtics’ glaring weaknesses; Fred Hoiberg and the Bulls attacked Boston’s 5’9” point guard relentlessly and dared players like Amir Johnson and Marcus Smart to shoot the ball, which they happily obliged.
Missed opportunities were the name of the game for Boston on Tuesday night. A shocking 6 missed free throws from Isaiah Thomas, was just the beginning. Watching the game back closely, (and not from Row-15 of the balcony at the TD Garden), it is obvious that Boston lacked critical leadership and resorted to a Bulls-like hero-ball strategy to rally the game back. “One time they were up 10, I felt like we tried to get it all back in one play, and that’s not how basketball works” said Jae Crowder following the game.
Chicago’s swarming defense forced the ball out of Thomas’ hands and dared someone else to make a shot for Boston, which no one could with consistency. This same story was told a calendar year ago when the Al Horford led Hawks stormed Thomas with double teams and traps, not letting the Little Guy beat them in the First Round.
The hallmark of the Boston Celtics in the regular season was that they would out-work you for 48 minutes and even if they were hurt, they would still scrape together an effort to win a close ballgame. The entire Celtics roster is composed of solid NBA talent and above-average role players (1-15) on their roster. The bench of Boston was to be a highlight of the year, and a “next man up” attitude took shape on a competitive team with a deep rotation. The bench play in the Playoffs however, has been lackluster to say the least.
One question going into the first round was how could Boston score when Thomas left the court. Throughout the regular season, the Celtics would find themselves in 4-6 minute droughts when Thomas left the floor, and relinquishing a lead. Having no clear and coherent bench scorer, like an Evan Turner of 2015, the Celtics can begin to unravel offensively. However, when IT is on the floor, he is the target of almost every offensive action the Bulls take, which hinders the value of defensive minded players like Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart, who have to pick up the burden of Thomas on defense.
Here is what we know, conclusively, after watching an ugly Game Two.
- The Boston Celtics are not big enough to control Chicago on the glass. Despite not letting up another historic rebounding night, like that of Game One, it is obvious that no matter who Boston throws at Robin Lopez and the bigs of Chicago, Boston is outmanned and outmatched, plain and simple.
- Despite adding the likes of Jaylen Brown and Al Horford in the off-season, this Boston team is very similar to that of last year’s struggling postseason team, with many of the same flaws. (i.e. Consistent shooting, bench scoring, and vulnerable defense)
- Boston’s hero ball does not work when there is no hero to be found. “In the second half the ball stopped moving. It wasn’t moving at all” said Avery Bradley. For a Boston team who was a top three assist team on the year, dumping the ball into the post with Marcus Smart while 4 players stand around the perimeter watching, is not Brad Stevens or Celtics basketball.
Facing reality, the winners of the Eastern Conference in the regular season are now down two games to none and heading on the road with more internal questions than they have answers. A lack of energy, cohesion, leadership, and belief have led to the Celtics being in the dire positon they are in now. Following the game, all Al Horford had to say was, “That’s all we have. That Game Three is a must-win for us.” Game Three in Chicago is now the focus, and it remains to be seen what, if any, adjustments can be made to stop this train from running off the track. But facing reality, the Celtics once bright and optimistic Playoff run could be gone by the time they leave the Windy City on Sunday.
Game One: 106-102 Bulls
Game Two: 111-97 Bulls