Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
It was said here, too, that life would be different in the playoffs when teams focus their defense and there would be no series, first round included, in which the Celts would cruise.
Granted all that, an 0-2 deficit on their home court to the Bulls is nothing less than stunning. We should take into account the tragedy of Isaiah Thomas’ sister’s passing and the residual effect on the Celts in Game 1.
But while there can be no way to understate or even fully understand what this has done to Thomas, whose 33-point series opener was followed by a very uneven 20 in last night’s 111-97 loss, there is no kind way to explain the way the club played on both ends of the Garden. Too hurried on offense. Too slow on defense.
For the Celtics … this is the problem with being a team built for regular-season success. Isaiah Thomas has the weight of the world on his shoulders right now, so his shooting percentage and free throw misses are totally understandable, no matter how badly he wants to help his team win. But of the Bulls’ 13 blocked shots in two games in this series, they have five on Thomas alone. They are swatting the 5-foot-9 superstar when he gets inside, and he’s not getting regular-season calls.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Celtics have not stepped up. The Boston defense goes to pieces, 12 points worse per 100 possessions, with free agent diamond Al Horford on the floor. Jae Crowder is 10-of-23, Marcus Smart is constantly left open by Chicago and can’t convert, Kelly Olynyk is shooting under 50 percent as a big man, Avery Bradley is 10 of 28. The Bulls know the Celtics’ entire offense relies around a 5-9 firebug, and they are extinguishing him and making the rest of those players make them pay.
But forget the stars. It has been Lopez who has helped the Bulls shove and wrestle their way to a near-insurmountable 2-0 lead in this series. It has been Lopez who has established a presence in the paint the Celtics can’t match, a presence that has cleared the way for the impressive numbers put up by his more celebrated teammates.
Lopez was expecting that, coming into Game 2, the Celtics would make an adjustment to limit his effectiveness. They didn’t, and he admitted that surprised him.
“Yeah, a little,” he said. “I was able to put pressure on the rim in the first game and I went out and tried to keep on doing that tonight. When I can do that, it opens things up for the other guys, my teammates. We were able to do that again tonight.”
Sports Illustrated – NBA playoffs 2017: Robin Lopez clears way for Bulls to go up 2-0 on Celtics
I’m planning a vacation for late May, and have been concerned that I might miss some Celtics playoff games during my travels.
Turns out I probably won’t need to worry about it.
The Celtics have shockingly collapsed now for two straight games, and with the next two being on the Bulls home court, are in actual danger of being swept. I want to be optimistic, but there have been 31 teams in NBA history to go 0-2 at home and only three came back to win the series. The Celts have given no indication that they’ll be the fourth.
It’s stunning that this series has become lopsided, and not because it’s a 1-8 match-up. The pertinent facts are that the Celtics won 53 regular season games, 12 more than Chicago. The Bulls were 16-25 on the road and lost both in Boston. In the last 10 days of the season, the Bulls lost to both the Knicks and Nets, and squeezed into the playoffs only via tie-breaker.
Now those same Bulls have flipped the switch, outplaying the Celtics twice. After Game 1 you could say that if a play or two had gone the other way, Boston might’ve won. Not last night. Chicago dominated a game the Cs desperately needed. After Boston scored the game’s first seven points, Chicago roared right back and seized all the momentum. Every time the Celtics got close, the Bulls responded by running off a string of points.
The visitors simply outworked Boston all night long, and earned all the benevolence of the basketball gods. A few examples:
- Robin Lopez, the one guy the Celtics would encourage to take outside shots, was swishing 18-footers and barely moving the net. He even made one to beat the shot clock. He also repeatedly reached over everyone for offensive rebounds and putbacks. Lopez shot 8-11, scored 18 points and drove Amir Johnson to the Celtics’ bench, perhaps for the rest of the series. (P.S. Lopez now has 12 offensive boards in the two games.)
- Playoff Rondo showed up and destroyed the Cs with 11 points, nine rebounds, 14 assists and five steals. (P.S. Rondo’s season-high was 15 assists.)
- Dwyane Wade, who looked washed up during the Bulls’ final regular season game in Boston, drained three deep triples late in Game 2, each time stifling the home team’s faint hopes. (P.S. Wade shot 31% from the arc this season.)
- Michael Carter-Williams banked in a straightaway 19-footer. (P.S. At 36.1%, MCW is one of the league’s worst shooters.)
On the flip side, there was this embarrassment from a frustrated Marcus Smart. Not the first time Marcus has lost his cool, as we all know.
As well as Chicago is playing, that’s how brutal Boston has been. Many of the Celtics have been exposed as just not ready or talented enough to compete at playoffs level. Perhaps those late-season bad losses to the Cavs and Hawks were not a blip but a preview of what we’re seeing now.
There’s also the delicate topic of Isaiah Thomas’ family tragedy. He has fought through it as best he can (see Page 2 item below), but he must be physically and mentally exhausted. IT missed six free throws in Game 2, something he’s never done in the NBA. And while his teammates have been there for him, their emotions have surely suffered, too. How their frame of mind has affected the on-court results cannot be measured, but it is a factor.
“You can’t make any excuses,” Bradley said. “Obviously, it’s heavy on everyone’s heart what happened to Isaiah and his family, and we were there for Isaiah. But we can’t continue to say that’s the reason.”
Still, there’s plenty of reason to wonder how the emotional week has affected the team. The Celtics were uncharacteristically snippy toward one another, arguing visibly mid-play and during timeouts whenever a teammate made a mistake or missed a rotation.
As Rich Jensen put it:
Now it’s time to remember that this was not a win-now season for the Celtics. Even if they had made minor roster upgrades, they wouldn’t be contenders. Still, they could’ve claimed a successful season by winning at least one playoff series – but they’re letting it get away. That’s the real disappointment.
One silver lining: We know roster changes are coming before next season. We hope to draft a future superstar, sign a top free agent, and import the draft-and-stash guys. To make room, someone has to go. After watching this playoff season, maybe fans will be more willing to say goodbye.
MassLive – With Isaiah Thomas grieving, Brad Stevens describes ‘quiet’ Boston Celtics atmosphere | Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics can’t get untracked, Chicago Bulls dominate Game 2, 111-97 | Brad Stevens: Jaylen Brown ‘struggled’ during Game 2 stint, Terry Rozier likely to see more time | 2017 NBA Playoffs: Rajon Rondo, back in playoff form, hurting Boston Celtics from the other side | Avery Bradley heard Rajon Rondo telling Chicago Bulls teammates the Boston Celtics ‘gave up’ in Game 2
CSNNE – Celtics In 0-2 Series Hole After 111-97 Loss To Bulls | Stars, Studs And Duds: Celtics Turn Attention To ‘Must-Win’ Game 3 | ‘Playoff Rondo’ Delivers For Bulls With Near Triple-Double In Game 2 | Bulls Role Players At The Heart Of 2-0 Series Lead Vs. Celtics | Celtics Fans Lose It On Twitter During Game 2 Loss To Bulls
On Page 2: IT’s plans
“He’s playing [Tuesday]. It’s still hard stuff,” said Stevens. “He’s going to go home [Wednesday] to Seattle and then he’ll rejoin us in Chicago. That’s the plan of attack right now.”
Stevens said he believes memorial plans are still incomplete for Chyna Thomas, who died Saturday at the age of 22 following a single-car accident in Washington. Stevens reaffirmed that, should the schedule allow, he’d like his team to attend any services.
“We would hope to [attend], for sure, [or] at least make that available to everybody,” said Stevens. “But those plans have not been finalized. Or at least I haven’t been told about it. Isaiah’s just going back to be with his family.”
Through this ordeal, Isaiah has demonstrated he’s one of the most tough-minded athletes in all of professional sports. He’s always been that way, but previously it was just about basketball. Now, IT is also doing his best to be there for both his team and his family. It’s uplifting to see the respect and support offered by the Celtics, their fans, and people across the league. Isaiah deserves every bit of it.
Perhaps after his trip to Washington, IT and his teammates will be refreshed and able to refocus on basketball. Some on-court success would surely lift their spirits.
On Page 3: Lottery gods, don’t fail us again
Over the course of eight hours together, it was tempting to view Fultz as the anti-Lonzo Ball. He’s nowhere near SportsCenter or First Take. Instead of a hype man father, he’s trailed by a mother and older sister who have been bossing him around for two decades, neither of whom has challenged Michael Jordan to one-on-one.
Fultz can play along with any conclusions you want to draw. “I like doing everything under the radar,” he says. “I don’t like making a scene. As far as being cocky, I never want to put anybody below me. I’ve been at the bottom. I know what it feels like to work hard, and when somebody else tries to showboat, it just makes me want to work harder.”
This could definitely be the persona he assumes during the draft process. Look closer, and it doesn’t quite fit. The truth about Markelle Fultz is that he’s soft-spoken and humble—but not that humble.
He plans on being the No. 1 pick, and you don’t get to where he is without being preternaturally self-assured. “Respect people,” he says, “but don’t fear nobody. That’s the way I carry myself.”
Now we’re getting closer to the truth.
Sports Illustrated – Meeting Markelle Fultz: A Day With The NBA’s (Likely) No. 1 Pick
“Closer to the truth” or “closer to The Truth”? Because we could sure use another Paul Pierce-level talent in green and white. And from the description above, Fultz sounds like a traditional Celtics-type player: low-key, team-oriented, and supremely confident. Lonzo Ball and his stage dad belong in LA, while anyone described as the “anti-Lonzo” belongs in Boston.
Then there’s this:
He’s been close with Isaiah Thomas since their workouts at Washington this summer. “I’ve talked to him a lot,” Fultz says. And yes, the family is well aware that Boston currently has the best odds at the No. 1 pick. “We always talk about the opportunity. That would be the craziest backcourt. The way he scores, the way I can pass, and the way I can score… we can switch between the one and two.”
The Celtics are due to win the draft lottery, aren’t they? Aren’t they?
And, finally: One last hope
The Rest of the Links:
Complex – The NBA Needs to Bring Back the Five-Game First Round Series (Not when the Cs are down 0-2.)