The 2011 Grizzlies, the 2007 Warriors, the 1999 Knicks and the 1994 Nuggets are members of a rare NBA club. Each of these teams famously toppled a 1-seed as an 8-seed in a first-round series, none of them started with a 2-0 lead. The Chicago Bulls are halfway to joining that club and have 3 home games left to do it. With their 111-97 loss, the Celtics have caused fans everywhere to mash that panic button they flirted with after game one.
A late rally in the first quarter avoided a disastrous start for the Celtics, as they cut Chicago’s lead to five, 31-26, and more importantly closed to the rebounding gap to two, 13-11, heading into the 2nd quarter. National TV Rondo made an early appearance, tallying six 1st quarter assists, but the Celtics took a lead 3 minutes into the 2nd quarter with an unlikely line-up of Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Isaiah Thomas, turning up the defense and stifling a Chicago offense that was humming. The lead was short lived, as the Bulls went on a 14-3 run over the next five minute and went into halftime leading 54-46. While Isaiah Thomas struggled after two quarters, Rondo nearly notched a triple-double with 8 points/7 rebounds/9 assists and the Bulls continued to dominate the glass, 28-20.
Boston shook things up to start the 2nd half by starting Tyler Zeller and went on 13-6 run, just to see Chicago and a red-hot Robin Lopez respond with a 18-6 run of their own, leading 78-65 after a Dwayne Wade 3 with four minutes left in the 3rd. A Jae Crowder leak-out dunk, Boston’s easiest two points of the night, cut Chicago’s lead to eleven, 86-75, heading to the 4th quarter. An 11-point deficit certainly feels much worse when Michael Carter-Williams is banking in 19-footers, but the Celtics were at least within reach.
The Celtics went back to the super-small line-up of Smart-Rozier-Thomas-Crowder-Olynyk to start the 4th, but they couldn’t gain on the Bulls. A Dwayne Wade three and floater gave Chicago a 100-86 lead with 6 minutes left and they never looked back. The emotional weight of the past three days clearly caught up with Isaiah Thomas, understandable so, and his box score reflected it. On a night where 6 different Bulls were in double figures, including a Rajon Rondo near triple-double, Thomas didn’t get much help from anyone else. If there is such a thing as a must-win Game 2, this was it and now Boston has 3 days to think about how to right the ship. Maybe the coaching staff turns to some other guys off the bench (Green, Jerebko), maybe being on the road galvanizes the team, but something has to change. Unfortunately, it’s not just about basketball right now and I am sure Isaiah will be away from the team in the coming days to be with his family in Seattle. Thinking about what he’s going through certainly puts Celtics fans’ woes into prospective and all of New England’s thoughts will be with him. Game three will be Friday night in Chicago.