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Celtics 108, Bulls 97: C’s roar to Game 5 victory, push Bulls to brink of elimination 04.26.17 at 11:08 pm ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) lays the ball over the reach of Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) during the first half in Game 5 of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) lays the ball over the reach of Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) during the first half in Game 5 of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

For the first time in three trips to the playoffs, it’s not all about Isaiah.

The Celtics on Wednesday took a 3-2 lead over the Bulls with a 108-97 victory in Game 5, their third straight win after dropping the first two games at home, and they did it without a banner night from All-Star Isaiah Thomas.

Though Thomas had his moments, particularly during the game-clinching run in the fourth quarter, this one was about the supporting cast.

Avery Bradley scored 24 points with six assists. Big man Al Horford, a weapon all night in the pick and roll, chipped in 21 points, 7 rebounds, and nine assists, filling the stat line in all the ways the Celtics envisioned when they signed him over the summer.

The second unit contributed, whether it was monster dunks from Terry Rozier and Jonas Jerebko, 14 points and some clever finishes from a fired-up Kelly Olynyk, or another energetic performance from Marcus Smart (8 points, 8 assists).

That said, this one was still a game until midway through the fourth quarter. Despite playing without injured point guard Rajon Rondo, who was unable to go just days after breaking his thumb in Game 2, the Bulls hung tough and actually entered the fourth quarter with a one-point lead following Jimmy Butler’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the third.

But Thomas and Horford took over in the fourth, spearheading a 25-8 run to open the quarter as the Celtics pulled away. After scoring just seven points in the first half on 1-of-6 shooting, Thomas came alive in the second half and finished with 24 points, including a number of the fearless drives that are his trademark. Though he shot just 1-for-10 on 3-pointers, he went 11-for-11 from the free throw line; as a team, the Celtics went 23-for-23.

On the other side, aging star Dwyane Wade did his best to keep the Bulls in the game, nearly notching a triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists.

The Celtics had too much, however. They can close out the Bulls in Game 6 on Friday in Chicago. There’s a chance Rondo plays in that one, but the way the Celtics have played the last three games, particularly their second unit, it might not matter.

Read More: Al Horford, Bulls, Celtics, Isaiah Thomas
Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo says he won’t play in Game 5 vs. Celtics 04.26.17 at 11:56 am ET
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Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo

The Celtics don’t have to worry about Rajon Rondo just yet.

The Bulls point guard, speaking to reporters after at shootaround before Wednesday’s Game 5, said he’s not ready to return.

Rondo broke his thumb during Chicago’s victory in Game 2, which he dominated by falling a rebound shy of a triple-double. At that point, he had been instrumental in the eighth-seeded Bulls sweeping the first two games in Boston.

They then returned to Chicago and lost two on their home court without their floor general, stymied by poor play from backups Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams. Isaiah Canaan, who hadn’t played more than seven minutes in a game since the All-Star break, as USA Today noted, will get the start in Game 5 after scoring 13 points in 34 minutes in Game 4.

There’s no word yet on whether Rondo will be able to return in time for Friday’s Game 6.

Read More: Bulls, Celtics, NBA playoffs, Rajon Rondo
Whoa: Bulls announce guard Rajon Rondo has a broken thumb and is out indefinitely 04.21.17 at 11:18 am ET
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Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo

The Celtics’ task just got a lot easier.

The Chicago Bulls announced on their website that guard Rajon Rondo suffered a broken thumb in Game 2 and will be out indefinitely. Surgery is not required.

What this means for the Celtics is huge. With Rondo turning back the clock to his Celtics days, the C’s had no answer for the creative point guard, who torched the smaller Isaiah Thomas in Games 1 and 2.

He was at his best in Game 2, falling one rebound shy of a triple-double and controlling the action at both ends of the floor with 11 points, nine rebounds, 14 assists, and five steals.

When Rondo was hurt late in the season, Jerian Grant stepped in as his replacement, with Michael Carter-Williams the backup. The two have combined for just 31 minutes (4 for Williams) and eight points through two games.

With the Celtics trailing 2-0, the Rondo news gives them a clear path to winning two straight games in Chicago and returning to Boston with the series tied. Unlike the last two postseasons, the C’s are playing at full health.

Click here for a further examination of what the Celtics need to do to turn this series around.

 

Read More: Bulls, Celtics, NBA playoffs, Rajon Rondo
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
Celtics clinch top seed in Eastern Conference with victory over Bucks in regular-season finale 04.12.17 at 11:58 pm ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas celebrates in the final moments of the Celtics 112-94 win over the Bucks on Wednesday. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas celebrates in the final moments of the Celtics 112-94 win over the Bucks on Wednesday. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

Say hello to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

It took a while on Wednesday, but once the Celtics got rolling, the Milwaukee Bucks B team had no chance.

With the top seed in the conference improbably on the line and the Bucks resting most of their starters, the Celtics closed the game with a 25-6 run to win a 112-94 blowout and clinch home-court advantage until the NBA Finals.

High-flying reserve Gerald Green led the Celtics with 18 points, including a pair of thunderous dunks, and Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson scored 16 apiece.

The Celtics began the night needing either a win or a Cleveland loss to clinch the regular-season conference championship. While the Cavs lost against Toronto, the Celtics (53-29) chose not to back into anything, winning the game and the top seed going away.

“I think there’s a pride in being consistent, and I told the guys that,” said head coach Brad Stevens. “I thought that they’d been really consistent throughout the whole year with the way that they’ve gone about their preparation and competed on a night-to-night basis. It’s not always easy throughout an 82-game schedule to be at your very best, but these guys are very consistent in their prep and the way they compete. So that’s a real positive but now – we’ll talk about what was accomplished later. We’ll focus on whenever we play this weekend, to get ready.”

The Celtics trailed by 11 after one and by as many as 13 in the second quarter before Isaiah Thomas (13 points, 8 assists) scored 10 points in a two-minute stretch to end the first half with the Celtics up 57-56.

The C’s then pulled away with their game-ending blitz, spearheaded by the defense of Marcus Smart and Green’s hot hand.

“I always expected to be the number one team coming out of the East,” said guard Avery Bradley, who injured a finger in the second half but returned to action. “I always expect for us to be better than what people think we’re going to be. The type of guys we have, the coaches, I know the amount of work we put in, the work our coaching staff puts in. I always have high expectations for this team.”

The C’s and Bulls split their four matchups during the regular season. The series marks a reunion with former Celtics guard Rajon Rondo.

“It’s going to be cool, it’s going to be a fun atmosphere for both teams,” Bradley said. “It’s weird playing against him on the other side, but playoff time is when he really brings it. It should be a fun series.”

Read More: Cavaliers, Celtics, Eastern Conference standings, NBA playoffs
Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck on OM&F: ‘I’d make the Al Horford deal again in one second today’ 04.12.17 at 12:06 pm ET
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Al Horford

Al Horford

Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck joined OM&F on Wednesday (see complete recap here) and was asked about the differing opinions over Al Horford’s impact this season.

Horford isn’t posting superstar numbers (14 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5 assists), but with the Celtics sitting on 52 wins with a chance to lock down the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference on Wednesday night against the Bucks, his contributions have been debated.

Put Grousbeck squarely in the camp of “no regrets” over signing the center to a four-year, $113 million contract last summer.

“I’m very happy with the signing and we have to be responsible for the contract,” Grousbeck said. “I’d love to see him step up and lead us all the way. Adding him last year put us better in the mix for another major free agent last year, obviously, puts us in the mix for a free agent this summer if we want to go that route, makes us a destination. I’d make the Al Horford deal again in one second today.”

So what do fans and media miss on nights when Horford doesn’t score a ton?

“I think when you go to the next level of analytics with Al, you see that Isaiah [Thomas] shoots noticeably better when he’s on the court,” Grousbeck said. “A lot of Isaiah’s points come from Al’s assists and Al’s screens. He’s one of the two leading big men in the league in assists at five a game, which is pretty high for a starting center. His screens are effective. He clears room for Isaiah to drive to the hoop, he sees him effectively along the perimeter. Isaiah and Al are linked. Isaiah shoots 55 percent when Al’s on the floor and 50 percent when he’s not. That’s a big difference when you take as many shots as Isaiah takes. That’s a meaningful difference in a game.”

Grousbeck suspects we’ll see a more assertive Horford in the postseason.

“I think playoffs will logically be his time,” he said. “When everything tightens up, you need that big man passing and setting screens and then bringing his offense. His balance is one of the reasons we are where we are.”

Read More: Al Horford, Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, NBA playoffs
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