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Al Horford says Gerald Green is biggest reason Celtics won in Chicago. Will it continue? 04.26.17 at 8:24 pm ET
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Al Horford

Al Horford

After facing a 2-0 hole in the best-of-7 series, Celtics coach Brad Stevens knew a change had to be made to the starting lineup. 

Stevens’ decision to start Gerald Green over Amir Johnson was a surprising one, to say the least, but certainly made a difference in Chicago — where the Celtics won two straight against the Bulls to tie the series, 2-2. It was a move that Al Horford says is the biggest reason why the C’s topped the Bulls twice on their own floor.

“For us, the lineup change is what helped us [the most], I think,” Horford said. “Being able to add Gerald to the starting lineup, I felt like that gave us better spacing.”

Green certainly made his presence felt in Chicago, especially in Game 4 when he scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half and finished with 7 rebounds in the crucial momentum-changing win. Now as the series swings back to Boston for Game 5, Horford is confident the Celtics can top the Bulls at home for what would be their first home victory of the series. 

“We’re gonna do what we do, that’s just playoff basketball after you play a certain amount of games,” Horford explained. “This is the ninth time we’ve played this team this year. I think it’s just a matter of keep seeing the same guys, keep running the same plays over and over and over. For us it’s just to make sure we go out and handle our business.”

Aside from Green’s Game 4 scoring outburst, Isaiah Thomas’ attitude, along with his 33-point performance of course, and his smile, certainly stood out on Sunday. It was the first time in the series we’ve seen that side of Thomas, since the untimely passing of his young sister, Chyna Thomas. 

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Rajon Rondo out of arm cast, could return after Game 5 04.25.17 at 7:18 pm ET
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Apr 18, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Chicago Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo (9) during the first quarter in game two of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago’s offense hasn’t looked the same without Rondo (M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Rajon Rondo has been ruled out for Game 5 in Boston on Wednesday, but Games 6 and 7 still remain open.

Rondo, who injured his right thumb in Game 2, had his hard cast removed this week and was taking jump shots on Tuesday before team practice. He was initially expected to miss seven to 10 days — ruling him out for the rest of the series — but after the Bulls dropped two straight in Chicago and are now on the verge of falling behind, 3-2, in their best-of-7 series against the Celtics, the Bulls could turn to Rondo for help.

However, Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg is calling a potential comeback against the Celtics unlikely, but stated if there’s one person who can pull it off it’s Rondo.

“This is honestly the first time he’s touched a basketball with that right hand,” Hoiberg said. “We’ll see. We’ll see how it goes. He’s going to continue to condition and do everything that he can. He was in the weight room yesterday getting a good session in there. It was his first time back in the weight room. He’s just getting this whole process started.

“Just watching him wince a little bit when the ball was coming to him makes me think it’s a longshot. But if there’s anybody who can do it and will try to fight through it, it’s Rondo because of the competitor he is.” (Chicago Tribune)

If the Bulls were to fall behind 3-2, it’d be hard to envision Rondo sitting on the bench in street clothes given the Bulls haven’t won a game in this series without him. One thing’s for sure is Rondo will not play in Game 5 but the rest of the series is still up in the air.

Rondo averaged 11.5 points, 10 assists and 8.5 rebounds in Games 1 and 2 before he was forced to sit out the rest of the series.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Fred Hoiberg, NBA
Gerald Green to start in Game 3 04.21.17 at 7:01 pm ET
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Gerald Green

Gerald Green

After a poor start to the series, very few expected Amir Johnson to be in Brad Stevens’ starting lineup for Game 3 against the Bulls but this is certainly a surprise to say the least.

Gerald Green will get the nod against the Bulls, he will replace Amir Johnson and join Al Horford and Jae Crowder in the front court with the usual back court duo of Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley.

Green, who hasn’t seen the floor since Game 1 when he clocked in 5:34, will look to give the Celtics a boost offensively while causing mismatch problems for Chicago’s big men. Green is not only a threat from outside, but also has the athleticism to blow past his defender off the dribble.

Celtics can certainly use that athleticism on the defensive end, along his rebounding capabilities. However, if the Bulls get off to a quick start, expect Stevens to turn to the bench for relief. Green will have a short leash in terms of playing time but will certainly provide much needed energy for the Celtics.

Nonetheless, Brad Stevens’ move is still a surprising one, given the fact that Green played only 47 games throughout the regular season, including only seven with the rest of Boston’s starting five.

He averaged 5.6 points, while shooting 40.9 percent from the floor along with 1.8 rebounds in 11.4 minutes throughout the regular season.

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
Brad Stevens on the status of Isaiah Thomas: ‘I think his intention is to play’ 04.16.17 at 6:07 pm ET
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Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens

Instead of talking X’s and O’s and his game plan for the Bulls in Game 1 of the playoffs, Celtics coach Brad Stevens spent time updating the media on the status of Isaiah Thomas. 

In the wake of the tragic passing of Thomas’ sister Chyna J. Thomas, Stevens couldn’t confirm if Thomas will play in the opening matchup of the Celtics’ seven-game series against the Bulls but did say Thomas’ initial intention is to take the floor.

“He went through our shootaround. He’s struggling,” Stevens said. “Obviously it’s tragic circumstances that he and his family are going through right now. Our thoughts are first and foremost with all of them. I think his intention is to play. We talked a little bit last night and then again today. As he goes through it and feels like he needs to not [play] then that’s whatever he wants. One of the things that I’ve learned having been through situations in the past is that there’s really no right or wrong answer — it’s whatever’s right for him. That’s what we’ve encouraged him. He’s really hurting. It’s a tough situation.”

Stevens said every member of the Celtics team has reached out to Thomas within the past 24 hours and spent time talking about Thomas’ character and what he means to the team. 

“Everybody reached out, it’s a close-knit team, he’s a big part of it” Stevens said. “Isaiah is a great teammate, Isaiah’s a great husband, he’s a great father. He is a great guy, great son and brother and I think ultimately we just all tried to do our part and let him know we’re thinking about him. Anything that we can all do to help; we do. We’re family and this particular situation with his family takes precedent over everything else going on and we’re here for him if he needs us.”

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Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Celtics fend off Nets, hold sole possession of No. 1 seed 04.11.17 at 3:00 am ET
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Apr 10, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) reacts during the third quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden.  The Celtics won 114-105. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

A win against the Bucks on Wednesday will give the Celtics a 53-29 record on the season and the No. 1 seed. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today)

The Celtics are one win away from entering the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

After Boston cruised to a 114-105 win over the Nets, the Heat did their part in fighting for the final playoff spot by beating the Cavaliers in overtime — giving the Celtics a one-game lead for first place in the east. All the C’s have to do now is beat the Bucks in Wednesday’s regular season finale at TD Garden in order to clinch the top spot. 

With the win, the Heat — who are now tied with the Bulls for eighth — kept their playoff hopes alive. Now, the Cavaliers not only need to beat the Raptors on Wednesday but also need the Celtics to lose in order to regain the No. 1 seed. 

Isaiah Thomas’ 27 points led six Celtics in double figures, Al Horford finished with 19 points, 8 rebounds, Avery Bradley poured in 18 points and Marcus Smart led the bench with 13 points. 

Celtics ended the first quarter with a 15-point lead (28-13) and held a double-digit lead throughout most of the first half. Celtics kicked off the third quarter with an 11-0 run to give them a 27-point lead — their largest one of the night. 

The Nets responded with a 12-0 run before the start of the final frame and eventually pulled to within 11 points. Jeremy Lin led with a double-double (26 points, 12 rebounds) and Brook Lopez added 25 points. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers,
Celtics Pregame: Brad Stevens does not plan on resting players in last two games 04.10.17 at 7:52 pm ET
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Mar 31, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens during the second half against the Orlando Magic at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Stevens will not rest his starters against Nets on Monday at TD Garden (Bob DeChiara/USA Today)

Don’t expect to see Brad Stevens rest his guys in the final games of the regular season. Celtics head coach has no plans of sitting his players if they’re healthy and it could pay dividends depending on what happens Monday.  

With two games left, the Celtics (51-29) find themselves tied with the Cavaliers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. After surrendering a 26-point fourth-quarter lead in a 126-125 overtime loss to the Hawks on Sunday, the Cavs are giving the Celtics another chance to grab the top playoff spot in the east. 

A Celtics win and a loss by the Cavaliers at Miami will give Boston a one game lead ahead of the Cavs for first place. The Cavs have to beat the Heat in order to clinch No.1 but will have to do so without LeBron James and Kyrie Irving — coach Tyronn Lue has decided to rest both — and Tristian Thompson (thumb), who is out nursing a hand injury. 

Meanwhile, the Heat (39-41), who are currently tied with the Bulls for the eighth and final playoff spot, are fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive. If the Heat knock off the Cavaliers while the C’s top the Nets on Monday, the Celtics can then decide their fate in Wednesday’s regular season finale against the Bucks — a win gives them first, a loss will lock Boston into second (CLE owns tiebreaker). 

Although Stevens isn’t going to rest up his guys before the postseason, he’s also not up late at night tossing and turning thinking about first place.

“The most important thing is tonight’s game (against Brooklyn). That’s the way I’m looking at it,” Stevens said. “Whatever seed we get, we get. That’ll be the result of an 82-game schedule, not the result of one or two games. It is what it is. We’ve had a pretty consistent year with regard to performance. We’ve also had moments where we haven’t played as well. I’m literally not talking about it with the team nor am I losing one second of sleep over it.”

Despite clinching the league’s worst record of the season, the Nets enter Monday’s game winners of four of their last five. Brooklyn has been playing the “spoiler” role lately, beating teams like the Hawks and Bulls, respectively — two clubs lobbying for playoff position. 

The Nets now will attempt to spoil the Celtics’ final chance at locking in the No. 1 seed.

Read More: Boston, Brad Stevens, Brooklyn Nets, Celtics
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