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.
The top-seeded Celtics had a chance in the game after a possession call was overturned on video review with Boston down four and 13.7 seconds on the clock. Thomas drove for a 104-102 game with 7.5 seconds left.
But Jimmy Butler hit two free throws for a four-point game with 3.3 seconds on the clock and the Celtics ran out of time on their comeback bid.
The Celtics gave up 20 offensive rebounds in the game – including 16 in the first half – and were outrebounded 53-36 on the night.
“That was the game,” said Celtics forward Jae Crowder. “That’s the game. That’s the series. If we don’t rebound, we don’t win the series. It’s simple.”
Down seven out of a timeout with 1:41 to play, Thomas was swallowed up on a drive and Bobby Portis knocked down a mid-range shot for a 101-92 game with 1:18 to play.
We knew it wouldn’t be easy. Game 1 certainly wasn’t a disaster, but the team was exposed. Chicago took advantage of its size and overall playoff experience. The Celtics couldn’t keep the Bulls off the offensive glass and struggled to score without the little guy on the floor.
Isaiah Thomas gutted his way to 33 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. His sister’s death was widely covered by the local and national media, with several NBA players offering condolences. He put up typical Isaiah numbers, but that doesn’t discount the emotional toll he went through for 36 hours.
Horford looked good most of the game, scoring 19 points on 8/13 shooting along with 8 assists and 7 rebounds. Smart and Bradley made key defensive plays with under a minute to play, temporarily keeping the Celtics alive. But they didn’t have enough firepower to maintain a lead. Boston’s three-point shooting was fine (14/38, 37%) and their offense generally was not a problem.
But offensive rebounding was. The Bulls had 20 total offensive rebounds including 16 in the first half, led by Rondo (4) and Lopez (8). Bobby Portis was the Bulls x-factor, scoring 19 points on 8/10 shooting and grabbing 9 boards. It must be pointed out, Danny Ainge drafted Terry Rozier (DNP-CD) over Portis in 2015. It’s not Rozier’s fault he went to such a guard-heavy team, but with Portis, he could have contributed to the Celtics throughout the season, and certainly last night.
The Celtics contained Jimmy Butler at the outset but he exploded for 23 in the second half. The final five minutes were a microcosm of the problems with this match-up. Dwyane Wade hit a contested 18-footer to give Chicago a 97-92 lead, the Bulls got a key offensive rebound, the Celtics made a necessary defensive stop but turned it over on the fast-break, Isaiah Thomas made his signature hesitation move only to be blocked at the rim by the taller Butler, and Butler could generally get whatever shot he wanted.
Chicago led 103-94 with 47 seconds remaining. In typical Celtics fashion, they extended the game by forcing impossible turnovers and attacking at will. A video review and out-of-bounds call reversal with 14 seconds allowed Boston to cut the lead to 2 points with seven seconds remaining, but it was too little too late.
The stat sheet doesn’t show too many wide disparities. Both teams shot 43 percent. Chicago had 19 turnovers to Boston’s 18. Points in the paint were relatively even, with the Bulls outscoring the Celtics 44-38. But Boston got out-rebounded 65-44 (20 to 12 in offensive rebounds), and the bench was outscored 35-22.
The Bulls struggled in the regular season largely due to the weird fit between their “three alphas”: Wade, Butler, and Rondo. They didn’t have outside shooting to complement these three, and they have a strange roster composition of veteran players and unproven young players. They do, however, have talent, and in an NBA playoff series, talent usually wins.
Do I think the Celtics will lose this series? Hell no. Boston should win in 5 or 6. They will make the necessary adjustments on Bobby Portis. Stevens will change the rotation to maximize Horford and Isaiah’s time on the floor. The Celtics will not get owned on the glass for two straight playoff games. If it was against Anthony Davis, maybe. But that won’t happen for two consecutive games against Robin freaking Lopez. Until then, we can only wait for Tuesday’s game 2.
Page 2: Gritty Performance From Thomas
But on Sunday night, Thomas stood on the corner of the TD Garden floor looking remarkably vulnerable. With tears in his eyes, Thomas did not raise his hand like he typically does when his name is announced, nor did he bound into Boston’s huddle to engage in the typical pregame mosh pit.
Instead, Thomas walked solemnly toward his teammates, who swallowed him into what was essentially a gigantic group hug. A deafening roar filled TD Garden, and a sign behind the Boston bench hammered home the theme of the night:
“We got you, Isaiah.”
One day after his sister died in a car crash, Thomas improbably scored a game-high 33 points, but the top-seeded Celtics fell to the eighth-seeded Chicago Bulls 106-102 in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference first-round series.
Emotionally exhausted, Thomas elected not to speak with reporters following Sunday’s game. But teammates and coaches marveled at the way he competed despite what he is going through. Their only lament was that they hadn’t found a way to get a win for Thomas.
“I think it just speaks to who he is as a person and how he comes out here and just fights each and every night, even when adversity is against him,” Celtics forward Jae Crowder said. “We just should have gotten that win for him.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens visited with Thomas on Saturday night and stressed to him again Sunday that he did not have to play if he did not feel up to it. Little more than 24 hours had passed since Thomas learned that his 22-year-old sister, Chyna Thomas, had died in a one-car interstate accident in their home state of Washington.
I cannot imagine what Isaiah was experiencing. A day before the biggest game of his career, he and his family have a horrible tragedy. Nobody would have faulted Thomas had he rested, but he played valiantly through the tragedy. There’s really nothing more to be said about this situation. The whole city of Boston is there for you, Isaiah.
According to the Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach, IT’s status for game two is unclear. Stevens and Thomas did not discuss it in detail, but the team will support Isaiah through whatever decision he makes. He may return to Tacoma to spend time with his family. It really doesn’t matter whether he plays or not, as these tragic circumstances take precedent over any basketball game. Here are some quotes from the article:
“Whatever he needs to do, he needs to do, and we’ll help in any way,” Stevens said. “If he needs to and wants to stay here, then we’ll be here surrounding him. And if he wants to go to Seattle, then he should go to Seattle. It’s his call, and should be.”
Stevens said he would not ask Thomas about his plan. He would let Thomas come up with a final decision on his own time.
“And then we’ll adjust accordingly,” Stevens said.
The Celtics are scheduled to watch film together on Monday afternoon and Game 2 of the series will be played at TD Garden on Tuesday before the teams head to Chicago for Friday’s Game 3.
“It’s a tragedy, man. I don’t even know how to say it,” Green said. “It’s just something we’re going to have to just get through. I.T. is one of my closest friends in the league and I’m here for him. It’s definitely going to motivate me to get through this postseason. I’m playing this postseason for him, man, I really am. Everything I do, I’m laying it all on the line for him, because I know he’s here today through a tough time. A lot of guys probably wouldn’t even have done that, and he’s here today. That just shows you what type of man he is.”
Celtics center Tyler Zeller said the team is aware of being there to support Thomas while also giving him his space if he needs it. He said there was no blueprint for how to handle a situation like this one.
“You see grandparents [pass away] or something like that, which is obviously very, very difficult,” Zeller said. “But a 22-year-old girl who dies in a car crash is extremely surprising, and it’s going to hit you harder than anything, because it’s so surprising. It’s difficult, and we’re all going to go out and play for him, and help him out in any way possible.”
“We compete against each other, but it is a brotherhood,” Chicago guard Dwyane Wade said. “I’m sure everyone will have their moment to say something to him. As competitors, we understand that whenever something is going wrong in our life, the best place to be is on this basketball court for those two, two-and-a-half hours. That’s where his mind is going to be the clearest.”
The Rest of the Links:
MassLive: Heartbreak for Isaiah
Hoops Habit: Celtics 16-17′ Regular Season Awards