The Boston Celtics played harder than any team in the entire NBA for five and a half months. They earned the one-seed for their effort and set the standard that another first round exit would be entirely unacceptable.
It’s been two straight seasons of one and done in the playoffs for Brad Stevens and the Celtics. They even lost in round one in the last season of Pierce and Garnett, before Stevens took over.
The C’s started looking a little burned out after the All-Star break but the excitement of the chase for the one-seed stifled the more concerned rumblings that this team would be vulnerable in the playoffs.
They used too much gas to get that top seed; they didn’t have a second gear. It sure looked like those assessments were true in Boston, where the Celtics lost twice to a Bulls team that squabbled for 60 games only to come together for the eight-seed on the final day of the regular season. Now Boston fights for its playoff life.
It isn’t a good matchup for the Celtics. Their defensive pressure doesn’t really bother Rondo, nor Wade, and the two teams are generally quite similar – the Bulls being the older, slightly slower, but much more experienced version.
That experience shined through in Boston, where Wade shot the ball well in game two and scored 22; Rondo nearly did his triple-double thing; and Jimmy Buckets did a little bit of everything in a Chicago route.
Butler is the other big advantage the Bulls have because, say what you want about Isaiah Thomas, he’s the best player on the court, which is noteworthy in the NBA Playoffs. He can guard anybody on the Celtics roster and makes Jae Crowder work hard enough on the defensive end to make him much more of a one-way player.
I wonder how the first two games have affected tonight’s line. On one hand, the Bulls have proven a worthy eight-seed, even looking like the better team. But Boston has its back up against the wall and need to have this one tonight. I have a feeling that, had the two teams split the two in Boston, Chicago might be a three or four point favorite tonight.
So it all comes back to whether the Celtics have another gear. That’s what drove skepticism coming into the series and it’s what will determine who covers tonight. I think I’ve seen enough to determine that they don’t.
Free Pick: Bulls -1.5