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Why the 0-2 problems (and solutions) start with the players, not Brad Stevens

04.19.17 at 2:52 am ET
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Apr 16, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4), center Al Horford (42), guard Avery Bradley (0) and forward Jae Crowder (99) walk off the court after their 106-102 loss to the Chicago Bulls in game one of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4), center Al Horford (42), guard Avery Bradley (0) and forward Jae Crowder (99) need to regroup in a hurry. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports).

The problem with these Celtics through two games is they haven’t met the challenge of the more experienced Chicago Bulls. This is not the job of Brad Stevens. 

Stevens can only do so much. True, he fell to 2-10 in his three playoff seasons in Boston, including 2-5 at home. No coach in NBA history has a worst record after at least 10 playoff games. Don Chaney and Bob Weiss were 2-9. Monty Williams stands 2-8. But Stevens can only pull so many players from a bench that consists of rookie and second-year players in Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. His bigs behind Amir Johnson are Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk. Marcus Smart has been spotty at best and Jonas Jerebko has been non-existent. 

Al Horford has underachieved in the first two games and doesn’t play like a pure post player even though Stevens admitted that, due to matchups, the Celtics have no choice but to put Horford at the ‘4’ and hope he can defend the low post. 

Jae Crowder continues to struggle and Isaiah Thomas seems – very understandably so – carrying the weight of the entire team on his shoulders, while his mind is clearly burdened with the loss of his 22-year-old sister last weekend in a tragic car accident 3,000 miles away. 

What exactly is Stevens supposed to say or do with all of that? 

“We have to get ready to play great on Friday,” Stevens said after the 111-97 loss to the Game 2 Tuesday night. “That’s what our focus has to be; we don’t have any other choice. And that’s what we said in the locker room, and that’s it.  We’ll dissect the film, we’ll go through it, we’ll figure out what we didn’t do well and there’ll be quite a lot, and go from there. But the (Paul) Zipsers, (Nikola) Mirotic, (Bobby) Portis – those guys have had huge impacts on the first two games of this series.

“I mean, I expect it from Wade, right? I mean, I think we all do.  Last year I think he hit less than 10 threes during the regular season and then more than that in the first round of the playoffs.  Like, this is who he is. And it’s who Rondo’s been throughout his career. I mean, the level that he’s playing at is terrific. And then Butler’s Butler. So, but those other guys are really impacting the series in a big way.”

Stevens coached this team to 53 wins in the regular season. He’s clearly one of the brightest minds in the game. But at some point, the players like Jae Crowder and Al Horford have to pick it up.

“Its self-explanatory. Down 0-2 going into their place we just have to take it one game at a time,” Crowder said after his 16-point minus-12 effort Tuesday. “They came in and took, and we have to do the same. Take it one game at a time and try to get a game three. It’s not ideal for us. Definitely don’t put yourself in a 0-2 hole having home court advantage. But it’s not the end of the world for us. We have the unit to go to Chicago and take care of business.”

Horford had seven points but was a minus-19. 

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Read More: 2017 NBA Playoffs, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Chicago Bulls

For the Celtics, Rajon Rondo picked a really bad time to turn into 2008 ‘playoff’ Rondo

04.19.17 at 2:25 am ET
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Apr 18, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Chicago Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo (9) is guarded by Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas (4) during the third quarter in game two of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Rajon Rondo (9) is guarded by Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas (4) during the third quarter in game two of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Before Tuesday’s Game 2, Fred Hoiberg couldn’t talk enough about how well Rajon Rondo handled being demoted to the second unit midway through the season when he was struggling and the Bulls were headed the wrong way in the playoff race.

After Game 2, a 111-97 thrashing of the Celtics that has the No. 8 seed Bulls two wins from the Eastern semifinals and the No. 1 Celtics soul-searching, all the talk was again about the mercurial point guard who fell just a rebound shy of a triple-double with five steals to boot.

This was a team that was entertaining the thought of trading their best player in Jimmy Butler and there were some in Boston who hoped Danny Ainge would pull the trigger.

Then Rondo slowly but surely began to rediscover his groove. His momentum began to build as the Bulls made their late charge to the playoffs. When the Bulls clinched the eighth and final spot in the East on the final night of the season with a 39-point win over the Nets, Rondo was in full stride.

Now that has carried over to the postseason and “playoff Rondo” is in full bloom. On Tuesday, he had 11 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds and five steals. This was the Rondo that Celtics fans saw in the team’s biggest playoff moments from 2008-2013.

“I just tried to stay aggressive. I was pretty aggressive last game, but I got myself into some foul trouble. Isaiah (Thomas) is a really crafty guy and I just wanted to go out and play as hard as I could,” Rondo said. “Definitely Game 3 is just one game, but its going to be the biggest game of our season and we want to approach it with that mindset and try to go out there and get another W. Its one game at a time, one possession at a time.” Read the rest of this entry »

Why can’t the No. 1 seed Celtics handle the No. 8 Bulls? It starts with Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez

04.18.17 at 11:50 pm ET
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How did this happen? How are the No. 8 seed Bulls THAT much better than the No. 1 seed Celtics? Well, it starts with Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler and yes, Robin Lopez? WEEI’s Mike Petraglia and Josue Pavon discuss a 111-97 loss to Chicago that leaves the Celtics in an 0-2 hole headed to Chicago.

Read More: 2017 NBA Playoffs, Boston Celtics, Josue Pavon, Mike Petraglia

Bulls 111, Celtics 97: C’s in serious, serious trouble after dropping first two in Boston

04.18.17 at 10:43 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics will need to pick themselves up in Chicago. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics will need to pick themselves up in Chicago. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics are in trouble.

With old friend Rajon Rondo turning back the clock and falling a rebound shy of a triple-double, and his Bulls teammates playing free and easy, Chicago romped to a 111-97 victory in Boston to open a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven first round series.

Led by Jimmy Butler (22 points) and Dwyane Wade (22 points), the Bulls buried the Celtics in the second half — demolishing any hopes of a close game midway through the fourth quarter. Chicago’s leading scorers combined for 29 of the Bulls’ 57 second-half points and got it done on both ends of the floor, with help from Rondo (11 points, 9 rebounds, 14 assists, 5 steals), who was everywhere.

Offensively, the Bulls fired on all cylinders, shooting 51.1 percent.

The Celtics leaped out to a quick 7-0 lead before the Bulls responded with a 9-2 run and went on from there. Chicago led mostly throughout the first half before Robin Lopez — who scored 10 first-half points — caught fire in the third quarter en route to 18 points and eight rebounds.

Meanwhile, it felt like the Celtics couldn’t get any offense from anyone not named Isaiah Thomas, who was harassed into 6-for-15 shooting en route to 20 points. Thomas, the second best free throw shooter in the league during the season, went an uncharacteristic 7-for-13 from the line, not that it mattered.

Thomas plans to leave the team on Wednesday and return to his native Washington for the funeral of his sister, Chyna, who died in a single-car crash on Saturday. His teammates have been given the option of joining him. The series resumes with Game 3 in Chicago on Friday.

Through three quarters, the Celtics only trailed by 11 points (86-75) but were far from grabbing any offensive momentum. When Kelly Olynyk drained a 3-pointer to pull the Celtics within nine points with under 10 minutes left, it felt like an opportunity for the C’s to capitalize, but instead the Bulls went on a 13-6 run keyed by the three-time champion Wade.

As the Celtics left the floor to boos, it was clear what lay ahead — they’ll need to win four of the next five to avoid their third straight first-round ouster.

Read More: Bulls, Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, NBA playoffs

Isaiah Thomas to travel to Seattle after Game 2, return for Game 3, Celtics may join him

04.18.17 at 7:29 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas will be heading immediately to his hometown of Seattle after Tuesday’s Game 2 against the Bulls at TD Garden to attend the funeral service for his 22-year-old sister Chyna.

He may have company on the grueling cross-country trip to support him.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens indicated that the team would like to make the option of travel to Seattle available to all players who wish to make the trip on Wednesday, but added before Tuesday’s Game 2 that details have not been finalized by the organization.

The logistics of the trip are made somewhat more viable by the fact that there are two days off between Games 2 and 3, with the third game not taking place until Friday night at the United Center in Chicago.

Stevens indicated that the plan would be for Thomas to definitely travel to Seattle after the game and return to Chicago in time to play Game 3 Friday.

“He’s playing tonight. Still hard stuff,” Stevens said. “He’s going to go home tomorrow to Seattle and then he’ll rejoin us in Chicago. That’s the plan of attack right now.”

The possibility of the players and staff joining Thomas later after he arrives in Seattle Wednesday is still up in the air.

“From everything I’ve been told, there’s still aren’t any final plans on the services and everything else so once we get information on that, we’ll obviously have to make those decisions on our schedule and everything else,” Stevens added. “But we would hope to, for sure, at least make that available to everybody. Those plans have not been finalized. Isaiah’s just going back [by himself] to be with his family.

“Bottom line, it’s quiet. Everybody really feels for the guy. We’re together all the time. It’s a great group of guys. We realize that we have a job to do and we have to prepare to do our job as well as we can. But at the same time, there’s a strong relationship there.”

Thomas was emotional throughout Game 1, scoring 33 points in the loss and tearing up during the national anthem. Avery Bradley, who is also a native of Washington state, was spotting consoling him before Game 1.

Read More: 2017 NBA Playoffs, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Chyna Thomas

Bulls 106, Celtics 102: Isaiah Thomas’s emotional effort not enough as Celtics lose playoff opener

04.16.17 at 9:16 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas of the Celtics ties his shoes, with messages dedicated to his late sister, Chyna Thomas, who was killed in a car accident on Saturday. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Isaiah Thomas of the Celtics ties his shoes, with messages dedicated to his late sister, Chyna Thomas, who was killed in a car accident on Saturday. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Isaiah Thomas wasn’t even a definite to play when Celtics coach Brad Stevens addressed reporters an hour before Game 1 of their first round playoff series against the Bulls.

“I think his intention is to play,” Stevens said.

By warmups, it was clear that Thomas would take the floor for the most emotional night of his life. The question was if his teammates would join him.

They didn’t.

With the Bulls dominating the boards and the Celtics struggling to find scoring options beyond Thomas and center Al Horford, the Bulls claimed Game 1 of their first-round playoff series with a convincing 106-102 victory.

Thomas played with a heavy heart following the death of his 22-year-old sister Chyna in a single-car crash early Saturday morning in Washington state, but he still managed 33 points, five rebounds, and six assists.

During pregame introductions, he was the last player announced to a deafening roar. Instead of his usual buoyant energy, he slowly walked to the huddle with teammates, who surrounded him in what amount to a group hug.

Thomas came out of the gate on fire, scoring 13 in the first quarter, including a pair of 3-pointers that helped the Celtics open a six-point lead.

But the Bulls showed up to win, and they took it to the Celtics by exploiting their biggest weakness and dominating the one facet of the game Thomas couldn’t control — the boards.

Chicago outrebounded the Celtics 32-20 in the first half and 53-36 overall. Among their tally were 20 offensive rebounds, which provided countless second-chance opportunities.

The Bulls led 48-46 at halftime after Al Horford’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer. The squads were tied at 74 entering the fourth, but Bulls star Jimmy Butler took over, and too many Celtics possessions ended with Marcus Smart misfiring on 3-pointers.

Thomas did his part with 13 points in the frame, but Butler was a beast on both ends, scoring 15 points, including the clinching free throws, and helping swallow up the Celtics on the perimeter and force someone other than Thomas to beat them. Virtually no one stepped forward.

Horford (19 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists) did his part, but the only other Celtic in double figures was Avery Bradley (14).

Read More: Bulls, Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, NBA playoffs

Celtics halftime report: Isaiah Thomas amazes in horrible circumstances, but C’s can’t rebound, trail Bulls

04.16.17 at 7:52 pm ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) gets a hug from guard Avery Bradley (0) after hitting a shot against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) gets a hug from guard Avery Bradley (0) after hitting a shot against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Just a quick halftime update, with the Celtics trailing the Bulls 48-46 at halftime of Game 1 of their playoff series.

All eyes were on star guard Isaiah Thomas during warmups and introductions. Playing through grief after his younger sister, Chyna, was killed in a one-car crash on Saturday morning in Washington, Thomas came out on fire, scoring 13 points in the first quarter and 15 in the first half.

Unfortunately, his teammates haven’t picked up their end of the bargain, particularly on the boards, where they’ve been outrebounded 32-20 while allowing 16 offensive rebounds.

Al Horford nailed a 3-pointer at the first half buzzer to pull the Celtics within two.

The play of the second unit has been particularly galling, with Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk a combined 1-for-8.

Robin Lopez leads the eighth-seeded Bulls with 12 points and eight rebounds, including seven offensive.

The Celtics will need to clamp down on the second-chance opportunities or they’ll have surrendered homecourt advantage. Jae Crowder played only 10 minutes in the half because he has three fouls, and he should help provide some toughness on Bulls star Jimmy Butler in the second half.

But as with the start of the game, all eyes will be on Thomas, who is 5-for-10 from the floor, including 2-for-5 on 3-pointers.

Read More: Bulls, Celtics, Chyna, Isaiah Thomas
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