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.
Rondo spent a year and a half on the Celtics while Brad Stevens was head coach, and it looks like he still remembers the playbook. Rondo had five steals and seven deflections — both game highs — and appeared to be one beat ahead of the Celtics offense.
In Game 1, the Bulls picked up a steal while the Celtics were getting into one of their regular motion-offense sets. It was like the Bulls saw it coming. It almost happened again in Game 2.
The Celtics need to make some revisions, whether it’s putting more zip on passes, or installing new actions that resemble old ones, which could make Chicago’s awareness work against it. Either way, it’s clear that Rondo knows what’s coming.
While Rajon Rondo languished on the bench in Chicago this season, turned coaches against him in previous stops, and while his game had seemingly been squeezed out of today’s pace and space NBA, one thing remained constant: “shorty” (as Kevin Garnett endearingly called him here in Boston) remained whip smart. Doc Rivers used to curse and praise Rondo in the same breath– admiring his knack for remember every single little detail about a gameplan, being able to commit opponents tape to memory to anticipate offensive sets, and then using his length and quickness to disrupt those sets in live game action.
Of course, all of this matters not when Rondo is either benched, or disengaged during some regular season back-to-back in Milwaukee, or something. But when the lights shine brightest, be it on national TV, the playoffs, or both and when there’s added motivation in the form of a Celtics team that has since moved on from his glory days between ’07 and ’13, you’re going to get all of the things that make Rondo special if he’s on your team, and maddening if he’s not.
The Celtics offense has been a train-wreck through two games. Jay King writes this morning about the Bulls defending the Celtics similarly to the Hawks in last year’s playoffs: Disrupting the Cs side-to-side motion offense by swarming the ball-handler and getting hands into passing lanes. And while that’s certainly part of it, Rondo’s knowledge of the Celtics gleaned from his year and a half with Brad Stevens is another part of it, too.
The ideal solution to both of these issues is for Stevens and company to use the next few days to throw wrinkles into existing sets with the primary goal of limiting turnovers. The Celtics problems run far deeper than any knowledge Rondo has of the Celtics strategy, but might as well make it a place to start.
On page 2, Isaiah is back at home in Washington
During a conference call Wednesday afternoon, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said memorial services have not been finalized for Chyna Thomas, and that Isaiah Thomas is using the team’s two-day break to be with his family.
The Celtics, who lost the first two games of their playoff series against the Bulls, had an off day Wednesday and will travel to Chicago on Thursday. Game 3 is scheduled for Friday.
“It’s super hard on Isaiah,” Stevens said. “You can tell. I think that during the games and during walk-throughs and the film, he’s trying his very best to focus. You hear a lot of people talk about how that time — especially in a guy’s sanctuary, like the gym is for Isaiah — is able to kind of alleviate the pain for those couple of hours. And there’s no question there’s moments during that time that are hard on him, but I think the other 21 hours are really tough, and we all feel for him. …
For once, as a fan, I’m happy that there are two days off between games in the playoffs. Isaiah’s commitment to competition and his team probably meant that he’d attempt to play in every game of this series and the playoffs regardless of scheduling. At the same time, Thomas’ closeness to his family meant that being in Tacoma as soon as possible was necessary for his grieving process. Leaving basketball out of this, I’m hoping this is exactly what Isaiah needs in order to try and process everything that has happened and get the support he needs outside of basketball and Boston sports community.
And finally, can Brad Stevens get his guys playing hard on Friday?
The Celtics play Game 3 tomorrow night at the United Center, and one bit of encouragement is their 23-18 regular season road record.
But Stevens, his career postseason record now a frustrating 2-10, admits that playoff intensity is a far different thing from what faces a good team over the course of the regular season. Everything is suddenly magnified, ratcheted up.
“It may be that when players think of being through (the playoffs) in the past, you appreciate the need to play better. We could be better in a lot of everything right now,” Stevens said.
What they need most, perhaps, is a way to restore their spirit after a horrid Game 2 performance in which Rajon Rondo could be heard telling his Bulls teammates that the Celtics had given up down the stretch of the bad loss.
Avery Bradley talked of how teammates could clearly be seen hanging their heads, and allowing dejection to settle in as the Bulls answered each Celtics run with something better.
At one stage Isaiah Thomas, struggling with inner turmoil over the death of his sister, broke out of his abstraction long enough to shout at Marcus Smart for driving into three Bulls and putting up a wild shot, instead of making the best available play.
Smart just hung his head while waiting for a Bulls player to shoot free throws.
This, according to Stevens, may be the toughest part of his job right now, propping up the spirits of his slumping players.
The doubts about Brad Stevens given his 2-10 post-season record (worst of all time through 12 games) are, to me, pretty overblown. Of course the Celtics were going to be swept in 2015 by the Cavs– the accomplishment that year was just getting into the post-season. Last season, injuries took a toll on the Cs at the worst possible time. This post-season, however, can’t go the way of a four game sweep to the eight-seeded Bulls, regardless of the off-court distraction. And so it’s time to see what Brad Stevens can cook up by tomorrow night, both in the way of Xs and Os and in the way he can get this team mentally ready.
The Cs looked shell-shocked and dejected through much of the second half on Tuesday night. The Bulls, a team used to turmoil, looks to have a swagger that they won’t just magically lose in front of a United Center crowd that will have a renewed sense of energy and passion. Boston will have to take that swagger away themselves, and if it doesn’t happen Friday, this series is over by Sunday.
If the Celtics get swept, Brad Stevens’ accomplishments through four years in Boston don’t get diminished. But he’ll certainly have a playoff monkey on his back that will follow him in the public eye until he and his teams do something about it. Let’s see if Brad can get his team back on Friday.
The rest of the links:
ESPN Boston — NBA fines Marcus Smart 25k for obscene gesture