Shell-Shocked Celtics Face Must-Win Game 3 at Bulls; 'Under’ Is Best Bet

bulls celtics

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 6:27 PM GMT

The Eastern Conference top-seeded Boston Celtics are on the wrong side of history as they trail the No. 8 Chicago Bulls 2-0 in their first-round playoff series. It resumes on Friday night (7 p.m. ET) with a switch to the Windy City.

NBA Playoff Record: 1-1

Boston Celtics At Chicago Bulls (-2, 207)

When previewing the Eastern Conference first-round series between the No. 1 Boston Celtics and No. 8 Chicago Bulls, I wrote that the Bulls had a puncher’s chance of winning the best-of-7 because Boston was perhaps the worst statistical top seed in modern NBA history.

That said, did I expect Chicago to go win the first two games in Boston? Absolutely not. No one did. I listen to Chicago sports radio all day and not a soul in the Windy City expected this. Boston is just the second No. 1 seed to trail a No. 8 in a series 2-0. The last time it happened was 1993, and the Phoenix Suns rallied to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. So this is the first time a top seed is down 2-0 to a No. 8 since first-round series went to a best-of-seven in 2003.

On updated NBA odds at BetOnline, Chicago is now a -275 favorite with Boston at +230.

 

Everything Clicking For Bulls

Chicago won Game 2 on Tuesday, 111-97, much like it did Game 1: Jimmy Butler was the best player on the floor, Rajon Rondo again played like he was in his prime, the Bulls got unexpected contributions from role players, and Chicago won the rebounding battle.

Butler followed up his 30-point Game 1 effort with 22 points, eight assists, eight rebounds and four steals in Game 2. Rondo, who was nearly cut by the Bulls at midseason after being benched, had 11 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds and five steals. The assists tied a team playoff record and it was the first time a Bulls player had at least 10 assists and five steals in a playoff game since Michael Jordan did it in the title-clinching Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals against the Lakers.

Bobby Portis had a huge game off the bench in Game 1, but reverted back to form in Game 2 with just three points and three rebounds in nine minutes. So German rookie Paul Zipser, a second-round pick, stepped up Tuesday with 16 points in 29 minutes. The Celtics were supposed to be the much deeper team. What’s going on here?

The Bulls were one of the NBA’s top rebounding teams in the league and the Celtics one of the worst -- and that has shown in this series. In Game 2, it was a 43-38 differential for Chicago. Boston simply has no answer for Bulls center Robin Lopez, who is averaging 16.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in this series. The Celtics defenders continually left him open for jumpers off pick-and-rolls in Game 2 and Lopez kept making them, going 8-for-11 – seven of those 11 shots were mid-range jumpers.

Where will Isaiah Thomas’ mind be for Game 3? He had 20 points on 6-for-15 shooting Tuesday and flew to Tacoma on Wednesday to be with his family after his younger sister died over the weekend. I continue to wonder if that’s part of the reason the Celtics look so flat.  Coach Brad Stevens said he expects Thomas to rejoin the team in Chicago in advance of Game 3. Thomas has done his part in the first two games with 53 points – he was outplayed by Rondo in Game 2, though -- but simply isn’t getting any consistent scoring help.

The best option for Stevens, who is just 2-10 in his postseason career, going forward might simply be to concede his team is going to lose the rebounding battle and go small. Use his superior depth to wear the Bulls down instead of fighting fire with fire on the boards in a losing battle.

I’m going ‘under’ for Friday’s game after splitting the first two ATS. I still can’t fathom Rondo playing like an All-Star going forward and the Bulls continually getting unsung scoring heroes off the bench. Both games have gone ‘over’ so far but barely. Chicago was 16-25 O/U on NBA picks this season.

UPDATE: Friday morning, news broke that Rondo suffered a fractured thumb in Game 2 and is out indefinitely. The Celtics are now -2 and the total dropped to 206. I still like the 'under' but would now back Boston on the side.