After the first two games of the Celtics-Bulls first round playoff matchup, you’d have a hard time finding many Celtics fans confident in their team’s chances of advancing.
The Celtics lost Game 1 and Game 2 – both at home – to the Bulls, and watched as Rajon Rondo picked them apart on both ends of the court.
The Bulls left Boston with a 2-0 series lead and what seemed to be all the confidence and momentum.
But my how things have changed.
Rondo hasn’t played since Game 2, now dealing with a broken thumb and injured wrist, and the Celtics have proceeded to win three straight without him, including Wednesday night’s 108-97 Game 5 to give the C’s their first series lead under Brad Stevens.
And tonight’s game marks the first time this C’s group has a chance to eliminate an opponent. They were swept two seasons ago against the Cavaliers, and lost in six games to the Hawks last season.
The Celtics know they can win in Chicago, as they’ve done it twice in this series already.
Here’s what to look for in Game 6.
Will Rajon Rondo play?
There were reports prior to Game 5 that Rajon Rondo, who now has the cast taken off his right hand, was going to give it a go. He ended up sitting out, as the injury hadn’t healed enough. But with the Bulls down 3-2 in the series, one has to wonder if Rondo will be available for tonight’s Game 6. If you’ve been following Rondo’s career, you know he has a pretty high pain threshold. You also know he’s a competitor and would love nothing more than to beat his old team. The Bulls are clearly a much better team with Rondo running the point, as the floor general can get Bulls stars Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler the ball where and when they want it, while also staying a pest on the defensive end, as evidenced by his five steals in Game 2. The fact that Rondo has become the end-all be-all for the Bulls explains their wacky season.
Eliminate Jimmy Butler
Well, duh. That’s a lot easier said than done, as Jimmy Butler is one of the best players in the NBA and exceptional on both ends of the court. But in Game 5, Avery Bradley was the better player. Not only did Bradley score 24 points for the Celtics (a playoff career-high), but he led the charge in limiting Butler to just 14 points and an invisible 0-for-1 from the free throw line, after Butler finished 19-for-23 from there in Game 4. With Rondo limited at best, taming Butler will all but ensure the Celtics advance Friday night. “I’m trying to make it hard on him. Butler is a very good player and my job for our team is to go out there and defend, try not to foul, and make the player work for every shot and make him work on both ends of the floor.
Not Just Isaiah Thomas
If you were told that Isaiah Thomas went 1-for-10 from the three-point line in Game 5, chances are you’d bet the C’s lost. But in a huge twist, they still pulled off the win. You already know what Avery Bradley did, but it didn’t end there. Al Horford continues to excel over the last three games, posting 21 points in Game 5 and averaging 16.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 6.4 assists this series. Kelly Olynyk added a playoff career-high 16 points off the bench. Though Marcus Smart’s shot is still off, he contributes in other ways, as he finished as a plus-12. All that being said, the C’s still need Thomas. Along with Bradley, Thomas led the team in scoring with 24 points and was a major part of the C’s pulling away in the fourth quarter, which included a 20-5 Celtics run.