The second day of NBA playoff games brought its own version of shocks and surprises carrying the torch lit by Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz the previous night. Just as the Bucks beat Toronto Raptors in Canada and the Jazz piped Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles, the Chicago Bulls did same in Boston Celtics building by winning 106-102.
In effect, the eight seed that struggled to make the playoffs won a game in the backyard of the Eastern Conference’s best team. To think a top two candidate for Coach of the Year in Brad Stevens would lose to one of the underperforming Coaches in the league in Fred Hoiberg, is one nobody saw coming.
Hoiberg’s critics are right to believe he is not the man for the job looking at Chicago Bulls inconsistent run where they are super good against the big boys but poor in equal measure against mid table and lowly ranked teams which is one of the main reasons Tom Thibodeau was sacked.
Case in point was the regular season game against Denver Nuggets where the Nuggets got a crucial 110-107 victory after rallying from a ten plus deficit to nab the win and failing to get neither his first choice nor his second choice game closer while time expired. While the likes of Scott Brooks have balanced their sides by making top dollar guys like Ian Mahinmi start from the bench while getting quality production, Hoiberg did same and fumbled with Rajon Rondo.
It wasn’t until Dwayne Wade’s injury that the former pro found the right balanced system to deploy Rondo. Notwithstanding, the Bulls shouldn’t have beaten the Celtics at the TD Garden. The reason behind it was simply the return of Boston’s old demons. Over the past seasons Danny Ainge’s charges have steadily rose to the summit of the East, two weaknesses have plagued the Celtics; rebounding or lack thereof and consistent scoring beyond Isaiah Thomas.
Against Chicago, all of the above mentioned flaws were exposed as the Bulls pummeled Boston on the boards. Chicago outdueled Boston 53-36 in rebounds in the game as the Celtics couldn’t matchup to the prowess of the Bulls in that category. Robin Lopez had an easy time grabbing 11 rebounds in the faces of Al Horford, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and the rest of the Celtics. In this department, Boston struggles tend to come up a lot as the TD Garden host is ranked the shortest team in the NBA. However, the ease Bulls players corralled misses off the rim was astounding as in many cases Chicago ended up with the ball despite the odds stacked against them. All Bulls starters recorded at least four rebounds which isn’t a bad stat considering Boston’s starters missed that mark by a single rebound. However, the Celtics bench failed to show up on that end leaving Boston’s bench battle short.
All through the season and season’s prior. Boston has lacked a consistent secondary and tertiary scoring option to complement the skills of Point Guard Isaiah Thomas. Though Boston clinched the top seed in the East, the side lacks the natural structure or order in putting the ball through the hoop. For Cleveland Cavaliers, three players do that namely LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. For Golden State Warriors the scorer’s list usually reads Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Even the homogenous, starless-esque San Antonio Spurs usually has Kawhi Leonard pace the team’s scoring ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. For other less endowed teams like Memphis Grizzlies Marc Gasol and Mike Conley take the charge while CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard do same for Portland Trailblazers.
Without Al Horford, Boston doesn’t have a consistent scoring threat on a nightly basis and even Horford struggled to get going in his debut season in Boston. Little wonder the Celtics was heavily involved in trade talks for Paul George and Jimmy Butler to get Thomas that second star to ease his burden. Missing that scoring option is hard to deal with in the postseason but now it is much harder for Boston because Thomas has been shaken by the death of his sister Chyna to the point he cried his way through pre game introductions and warm ups. Though he scored 33 points in the loss to Chicago, there was something missing in his game.
No fire lit inside to get his side over the edge when the game still hang in the balance. Boston still can outsmart Chicago with Stevens on the sidelines but they will need more than that to get close to the defending champions Cavaliers.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter