The Boston Celtics were forced to compete in the wake the death of all-star Isaiah Thomas’ sister, Chyna Thomas. Thomas was reportedly killed in a one-car accident in Washington this past Saturday. She was only 22 years of age.
Isaiah Thomas, with reddened melancholy eyes, was embraced with a wave of support from the Boston fan base. Exhibiting the utmost resiliency and mental toughness, Thomas led the Celtics with 33 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists. Despite the heroics, the Celtics were upset by the Bulls by a margin of 106-102. The 8th seeded Chicago Bulls, with their win last night, have stole home-court advantage from the Celtics, and are in control of the series as of now.
One cannot expect basketball to be the primary area of focus in regard to Thomas. Losing a loved one takes an insurmountable toll on any individual uniquely, yet Thomas has remained adamant on performing for his teammates, his city, and now, his late sister looking down upon him. Thomas has been a model of perseverance in the NBA. His 5’9 stature and prior trade history have propelled Thomas into superstardom this year, anchoring the first seeded Celtics and leading the NBA in 4th quarter points, garnering the new nickname “Mr. 4th Quarter.” A death should not be the driving force of any movement, but players in the past, and Thomas himself use the tragedy as a motivating factor to help them compete. Thomas playing for his sister could greatly benefit the Celtics in these playoffs.
The Celtics underwhelmed outside of the stellar play from IT4. Jae Crowder registered a meager 9 points on an inefficient 4-12 shooting night and had his hands full with star Jimmy Butler on both ends of the floor. A combined 22 bench points for the Celtics were only 3 more… than Chicago Bulls second-year vet Bobby Portis’ 19, by himself. Former All-Star Al Horford was the only other player who seemed to come to play for Boston, putting up 19 points on 8-13 shooting with a whopping 7 rebounds and 8 assists.
The Bulls, on the other hand, stayed in the game and managed to win behind their 3 veteran leaders. Jimmy Butler lead the way with 30 points, getting to the line 12 times and draining 3 3-pointers, an area the Bulls finished dead last in on the season. Future Hall-of-Famer Dwyane Wade finished with a cool 11 points, quietly making his mark in the clutch. Rajon Rondo, a troubling case for the past 3 seasons, came to play as many predicted he would, pushing the tempo early and getting to the basket at will. He racked up a well rounded 12 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 1 block, numbers reminiscent of his prime.
The Story of the night, however, was Bobby Portis. Inserted into the starting lineup midway through the second half of the season in the wake of the Taj Gibson trade, gave the Bulls the boost they needed to overcome the Celtics. His 19 points came on a mind-boggling 8-10 shooting night. In his playoff debut, Portis lit up one of the best defenses in the entire league. Even more impressive than his 8-10 from the floor was his 3-4 from the 3 point line. As previously stated, the Bulls have struggled mightily from beyond the arc, a necessity needed to win in today’s NBA. Last night was an exception, to say the least.
Stealing home court advantage surely hurts the Celtics, but they are still favored by 52% to win the series. Going forward, several things need to happen. For one, more than 22 bench points will be needed in order to win. With a mentally troubled Thomas, the Celtics will need to lean heavily on Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier off the bench to dictate the offense when IT is on the bench. In addition, being outrebounded 53 to 36 as a team is probably the major indicator of their loss. Control of the boards is key and leads to fast breaks or second chance points. Chicago shot 87% from the charity stripe as opposed to 74% on Boston’s end.
The series will go as far as Boston lets it go. But the Bulls have a competitive advantage. Dwyane Wade’s experience and big shot making ability give the Bulls a security blanket they haven’t had in previous seasons. Rajon Rondo’s championship experience as well, coupled with his pass-first style of play, will benefit the Bulls who struggle to move the ball. He can find guys open from 3 and generate more offense in that regard. Marcus Smart on the Bulls end will need to have a better shot selection going forward, and Jae Crowder must step up to the plate and contain Jimmy Butler somewhat. If none of these things happen, the Bulls will become yet another 8th seed to knock off the top seed.