The Boston Celtics have won three straight games against the Bulls in their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series as it shifts back to Chicago on Friday for Game 6. The big question is whether Rajon Rondo returns for the Bulls.
NBA Playoff Record: 4-2Boston Celtics At Chicago Bulls (-1, 204)
The only other top-seeded team under the current playoff format to lose the first two games of a playoff series at home to a No. 8 as Boston did to Chicago also came back to win the series. That was the Phoenix Suns in 1993 against the Los Angeles Lakers, although the first round was just best-of-5 then. So Boston can make some history Friday in closing out the Bulls in Game 6 at the United Center (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).
It’s no secret that this series turned when Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo fractured his right thumb in the Bulls’ Game 2 win, although no one knew of that injury publicly until the morning of Game 3 last Friday. Rondo was Chicago’s second-best player behind Jimmy Butler the first two games in averaging 11.5 points, 10 assists, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals. Rondo did get his hard cast off Monday and participated in much of Tuesday’s practice but couldn’t go in Game 5, a 108-97 Celtics win. Rondo also revealed Wednesday that he has a torn ligament in his right wrist, something from earlier this season.
I believe that Rondo will play Friday, even at clearly less than 100 percent, in what could be his final game in a Bulls uniform as the team may or may not pick up his option for 2017-18. The NBA odds on this one thus could move a bit if Rondo goes. Bulls backup point guards Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams were truly brutal in Games 3-4, shooting a combined 6-for-28 with nine turnovers. Coach Fred Hoiberg gave journeyman point guard Isaiah Canaan his first start of the entire season in Game 5. Canaan was decent enough with 13 points but had four turnovers and the Bulls were outscored by 13 with him on the court. Carter-Williams got just four minutes and Grant didn’t play.
Chicago led Boston by two entering the fourth quarter Wednesday thanks to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the third by Butler. However, the Celtics truly seemed to want it more in the fourth and their depth took over. Butler had a disappointing Game 5 with only 14 points on 6-for-15 shooting. He was scoreless in the fourth quarter when the Bulls were outscored by 13. Some believe Butler is hurting. Dwyane Wade had a great game with 26 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. He’ll have to have another one to get this series to a Game 7, Rondo or not.
Bradley, Horford Step Up In Game 5
After watching his team get dominated on the boards, Celtics coach Brad Stevens switched his starting lineup before Game 3 by inserting guard Gerald Green in for big man Amir Johnson. Green played well in the wins in Games 3-4 in Chicago and started again Wednesday but was a non-factor with two points. I expect he’ll stay in there as Johnson didn’t play at all and neither did fellow big Tyler Zeller. Stevens is basically conceding the rebounding battle to create more space on the floor.
Avery Bradley had his best game of the series in Game 5 in hitting 11-for-19 for a playoff career-high 24 points. He also played great defense on Butler, who had two points on 1-for-5 shooting with one turnover when defended by Bradley. Al Horford also had his best game of the series with 21 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Bradley and Horford helped make up for a subpar effort from Isaiah Thomas, who was 6-for-17 overall and 1-for-10 from long range. He finished with 24 points thanks to 11-for-11 from the line. Boston didn’t miss a free throw in 23 tries.
Boston has played more inspired basketball and with more energy since Thomas returned home to be with his family in Washington following the death of his younger sister. I believe Boston’s 0-2 start to this series was partly due to Rondo but also partly due to that death, which seemed to affect the entire team. The Celtics are over that now, have figured out the Bulls and thus Boston is my NBA pick.