BOSTON CELTICS (53-31)
at CHICAGO BULLS (43-41)
Tip-off: Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Line: Chicago -1, Total: 207
Life comes at you fast, Boston: Game 3 is a must-win for the Celtics on Friday.
Less than a week into the 2017 playoffs, the biggest storyline to emerge thus far has to be the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 seed Chicago Bulls’ dominance over the No. 1 Boston Celtics, as they took a 106-102 victory in Game 1 (CHI +6.5) and a 111-97 win in Game 2 (CHI +7.5). Despite a devastating disparity in rebounding between the teams in Game 1 (Bulls +21), the game went down to the wire and Celtics fans were happy to write the defeat off as a fluke. It’s hard for anyone to feel that way after Game 2, though, as the Celtics looked completely lost and the Bulls looked masterful on both ends of the floor. Now, Boston must take to the road and win back the games they dropped at home, with Game 3 on Friday night being an absolute must-win. Over the last five seasons, teams coming off an upset win on the road (CHI) are 132-197 ATS. Since 1996, Friday night games involving two winning teams are 264-173 Under against totals between 200 and 209.5. Over the last five seasons, games involving a winning team coming off a road upset win of at least 10 points are 33-14 Under against totals between 200 and 209.5. It was unexpectedly announced on Friday morning that the Bulls will be without PG Rajon Rondo indefinitely, as he has fractured his thumb.
In Game 1 this past Sunday, Celtics PG Isaiah Thomas (26.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.0 SPG in playoffs) was only one day removed from the traffic death of his sister. It was remarkable that he played at all, let alone the fact that he scored 33 points on 18 shots. He was less effective in Game 2, putting up 20 points on 15 shots and turning the ball over five times while only posting two assists. He has struggled to find open teammates thanks to the Bulls’ anticipatory defense, and those teammates have struggled to hit open shots in the rare instances they’ve had them. SF Jae Crowder (12.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG in playoffs) shot a near-elite 39.8% from three in the regular season, but he has made only three of 11 attempts from deep in these two games. Similarly, SG Avery Bradley (13.0 PPG PPG, 2.0 SPG in playoffs) has made six of 18. Those numbers aren’t dismal, although the Celtics’ team three-point percentage of 33.8% in those two games would rank 26th among NBA teams this regular season. Bradley has been good on defense, but Crowder has looked slow at times. PG Marcus Smart (11.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.5 SPG in playoffs) has actually outperformed his usually shooting abilities in making four of eleven three-pointers, but the Bulls are typically leaving him wide open and forcing him to take those shots. PF Amir Johnson (4.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG in playoffs) pretty much looks done, while C Al Horford (13.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 6.5 APG) is getting dominated inside and only scored seven points in Game 2 after a strong offensive Game 1.
The seemingly washed up Rondo (11.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 10.0 APG, 3.5 SPG in playoffs) had turned back into the Playoff Rondo of yore against his former team. He shot 55% from two-point range in the two games, and his penetration created space for open jump shots for PFs Bobby Portis (11.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.0 BPG in playoffs) and Paul Zipser (11.0 PPG in playoffs). Even more impactfully, he appeared to have the entire Celtics offensive playbook committed to memory and consistently disrupted passing lanes as a result. His absence represents a huge loss for the Bulls; PG Jerian Grant (3.0 PPG, 2.0 APG) figures to take the bulk of his minutes going forward. Grant was a team-worst -14 in Game 2, although he was a +6 in Game 1. C Robin Lopez (16.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG in playoffs) has both knocked down the same jumpers as Portis and Zipser, and also been a beast inside. Horford and Johnson aren’t exactly the toughest competition for rebounds, but even with that considered, Lopez has stepped his game up another level. The fact that SF Jimmy Butler (26.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 5.5 APG, 2.5 SPG, 1.5 BPG in playoffs) is the fifth Bull mentioned here despite having played an excellent series so far should tell you everything you need to know about the performances this team is getting from its role players. With four steals and two blocks in Game 2, he has joined Rondo in dominating on both ends of the floor. After struggling in Game 1, SG Dwyane Wade (16.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.5 BPG) had 22 points in Game 2. The career 28.7% three-point shooter has made four of six threes in the series.