Easily the biggest surprise thus far in the NBA playoffs has been the No. 8 Chicago Bulls going to No. 1 Boston and upsetting the Celtics in Game 1 of their first-round series Sunday. What can we expect Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET) in Game 2?
NBA Playoff Record: 1-0Game 2: Chicago Bulls At Boston Celtics (-6, 204.5)
When I previewed Sunday’s Bulls-Celtics Game 1 Eastern Conference first-round series, I mentioned that by some statistical measures, the Celtics were the worst top seed in modern NBA history. Their season point differential and net rating were not indicative of a team with the best record in its conference. I also mentioned that one of Boston’s biggest weaknesses was rebounding and that the Bulls were terrific on the boards. Thus I backed Chicago getting 7.5 points on NBA odds.
Chicago stole Game 1 106-102. All-Star guard Jimmy Butler looked almost Jordan-esque in scoring 30 points to go with nine rebounds and three assists. A total of 23 of Butler’s points came in the second half. He became the 11th player to score 30 points in any Game 1 playoff win against the Celtics in Boston. Nine of the first 10 guys to do that are in the Basketball Hall of Fame: Bob Pettit (twice), Cliff Hagan, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Walt Frazier, Elvin Hayes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Isiah Thomas. The other was former Bull Derrick Rose, who did it in an overtime victory in 2009. Of course the Celtics tried to trade for Butler last offseason and ahead of this year’s trade deadline.
The Bulls also got a major boost off the bench from young Bobby Portis, who had 19 points (8-for-10 shooting) and nine rebounds. Chicago destroyed Boston on the boards 53-36. The Celtics were aware of their rebounding problem during the season and GM Danny Ainge tried to land a big man at the trade deadline but couldn’t complete any deals. That could come back to bite him. Three Bulls had more rebounds than Boston’s leading guy, Jae Crowder (8), did in Game 1.
Thomas Plays With Heavy Heart
The biggest story line heading into Game 1 was Boston All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas playing after his younger sister, 22-year-old Chyna Thomas, died early Saturday in a one-car interstate accident in their home state of Washington. Thomas was overcome with emotion several times before the start of the game. The team held a pregame moment of silence for Chyna Thomas. Isaiah certainly did his part to win Game 1 with a game-high 33 points on 10-for-18 shooting with six assists and five rebounds. On Thomas' shoes he wrote "Chyna" with "RIP LIL SIS" and 4-15-17.
Another knock on the Celtics this year besides rebounding has been the lack of a legitimate No. 2 scorer to help Thomas. That also was evident in Game 1. The Celtics outscored Chicago by 12 points in Thomas' 38 minutes, but they were minus-16 in the 10 minutes he spent on the bench. This is nothing new. After the All-Star break, Boston averaged just 93.8 points per 100 possessions with Thomas on the bench, 20 points fewer than they scored with him playing. They can’t play him 48 minutes per night.
I do think the entire Celtics team was a little emotional in Game 1 for their teammate, and that they will play much better Tuesday. The Bulls might be due a bit of a letdown after already stealing one on the road and getting the split they wanted. Chicago wasn’t a good regular-season team away from home with a 16-25 record. In addition, Portis isn’t going to play that well again.
The home team is still 7-1 ATS on NBA picks in the past eight meetings between these two.