We are four games into the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series between the Celtics and Bulls as it heads back to Boston on Wednesday night. The home team is yet to win a game. That will change in Game 5, but will the Celtics cover?
NBA Playoff Record: 3-1Game 5: Chicago Bulls At Boston Celtics (-8, 202)
Game 5 is Wednesday night between the Bulls and Celtics at TD Garden and shown on TNT. This is just the fourth time in an NBA postseason under the current format (since 1984) that the road team has won each of the first four games in a series. It last happened in the 2005 first round. Houston won Games 1-2 and Dallas 3-4, with the Mavericks going on to win the series. The Celtics are now -410 on NBA odds to win the series with the Bulls at +340.
On my preview of Game 3 of this series, I wrote that I expected Celtics coach Brad Stevens to go with a smaller lineup because his team was getting punished on the boards as it was so he might as well try a different look. Stevens has done just that, but it’s probably not the biggest reason the Celtics won the two games in Chicago. No, that would be the broken thumb suffered by Bulls guard Rajon Rondo.
The injury happened in Game 2 but no one heard a thing about it until Friday morning ahead of Game 3. Rondo was averaging nearly a triple-double in the first two games and the Bulls scored 106 and 111 points in those upsets. They have been lost without him in dropping the past two and scoring 87 and 95 points in them. Rondo isn’t expected back in the series.
On Sunday, it was a 104-95 Boston victory. Isaiah Thomas was excellent with 33 points. He either scored or assisted on all 16 points that Boston scored over the final 5:12 of the third quarter as Boston re-established a lead it wouldn’t relinquish lead after the Bulls had rallied from 13 points down to take their first and only lead at 65-63.
You expect Thomas to be great. What has been unexpected is the contributions from Gerald Green. He played a total of six minutes in the first two games but with Stevens going small, Green has started the past two over Amir Johnson. Green has contributed 26 points and eight rebounds combined in those games, hitting 6-for-12 from 3-point range. Johnson, incidentally, didn’t even play Game 4.
Thomas Getting “Carried” Away?
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg made news after Game 4 in saying that Thomas basically carries the ball every team he dribbles: “When you're allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he is impossible to guard. He's impossible to guard when you're able to put your hand underneath the ball and take two or three steps and put it back down.”
Hoiberg technically isn’t wrong, but if he thinks the officials are going to start calling that, he’s delirious. A lot of guys carry in the NBA (and travel). I’m sure he was just trying to fire up his team. The Bulls were led by Jimmy Butler’s 33 points in Game 4, but he had to play a way-too-many 46 minutes. No other player had more than 13 points. Hoiberg started Jerian Grant at point guard; he was minus-10 in just five minutes. Michael Carter-Williams also was terrible in his eight minutes.
Isaiah Canaan was the only Bulls player with a positive rating in his 34 minutes so you might see him start Game 5 at the point (update: he will). He can shoot but not defend. The Bulls’ net efficiency (net points per 100 possessions) with Rondo on the floor this postseason is a +14.5. Without him on the floor, it's -9.9.
Boston has seized control of this series and will win Game 5, but 8 is too many points to give with the road team 4-0 ATS in the series. The Bulls are thus my NBA pick. There’s about a 65 percent lean on Chicago at SBR’s top sportsbooks as of this writing. The Bulls were 23-16-2 ATS on the road during the regular season.