NBA Playoffs 2017: Bona fide stars lift Bulls to 2-0 lead as Celtics' formula breaks down
Big-time players made big-time plays for Chicago in Game 2
Big time players make big time plays. I know. That's a cliche. A brutal, overly simplistic cliche. But there are adages that have run true time and time again in the NBA, and that's the reality. Here's another one.
The playoffs are a whole other animal from the regular season.
And so, the Chicago Bulls waxed the No. 1 seed Boston Celtics 111-97 on Tuesday to take a 2-0 lead in their first-round series. There are elements you can point to, issues you can dissect, and they're all true, to a degree.
But it comes down to this: The Bulls have superstar players with playoff pedigree who have stepped up and led their teams, and the Celtics have Isaiah Thomas, in a significantly emotionally compromised state after the death of his sister. Chicago has had the best player on the floor and on Tuesday night, it had the top four.
Jimmy Butler toppled the Celtics in Game 1, closing with ferocity. In Game 2, Butler had 22 points on 19 shots. He didn't even play well offensively. But he finished with four steals and a massive block on Isaiah Thomas late for the second game in a row.
Dwyane Wade was quiet in Game 1, then roared in Game 2 with 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting. He hit 3-pointers, 3-of-4 to be exact, which will infuriate Boston fans, but this is what Wade does. He adapts to playoff series, and steps up in those moments. Wade is a career 29 percent 3-point shooter in the regular season. He is 16-of-29 in the past two postseasons, at 55 percent from deep. I could try and talk about him getting his elbow up, or the changes in spacing in the playoffs, but it's as simple as this: Dwyane Wade is the kind of player who makes these kinds of plays in the playoffs. He has his entire career, since he was a wee puppy in his first season. He is bonafide. His credentials in the playoffs are impeccable.
And you had best keep respect on his name.
Then there's Rajon Rondo. Tuesday night was Rajon Rondo's best NBA game since he was traded from Boston years ago. It wasn't just the numbers (11-9-14, one rebound shy of a triple-double, along with five steals). It's how he dictated the pace of play. He accepted the challenge defensively on Isaiah Thomas and walked away with seven deflections to lead all players and helped contribute to Thomas' poor shooting night. Rondo pushed when the time was right to push, and reset the offense when it wasn't. It was a sublime performance from a player whose best days seemed behind him.
For the Celtics ... this is the problem with being a team built for regular-season success. Isaiah Thomas has the weight of the world on his shoulders right now, so his shooting percentage and free throw misses are totally understandable, no matter how badly he wants to help his team win. But of the Bulls' 13 blocked shots in two games in this series, they have five on Thomas alone. They are swatting the 5-foot-9 superstar when he gets inside, and he's not getting regular-season calls.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Celtics have not stepped up. The Boston defense goes to pieces, 12 points worse per 100 possessions, with free agent diamond Al Horford on the floor. Jae Crowder is 10-of-23, Marcus Smart is constantly left open by Chicago and can't convert, Kelly Olynyk is shooting under 50 percent as a big man, Avery Bradley is 10 of 28. The Bulls know the Celtics' entire offense relies around a 5-9 firebug, and they are extinguishing him and making the rest of those players make them pay.
They have role players. The Bulls have star power. The Celtics have skill, the Bulls have sheer size and ferocity.
And a 2-0 lead.
If any team this season was capable of losing after taking both games on the road, it's the Bulls. But the playoffs are different. Chicago's formula -- tough defense, pace control, size, physicality, and bonafide star with playoff credentials -- works. The Celtics' formula is imploding on the biggest stage, and unless this team grows in its toughest moment into an entirely different squad than it has been, including vaunted coach Brad Stevens, who is now 2-10 in the playoffs, the Celtics are going to have a lot of time to think about who to draft with that Nets pick ... because their season will be over.
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