Celtics blow out the Bulls in Game 6, move on to face the Wizards

Celtics blow out the Bulls in Game 6, move on to face the Wizards

CHICAGO – The Boston Celtics were at a crossroads just two games into their first-round series against Chicago.

Down 2-0, something had to change – and change fast – if they were going to avoid being remembered as one of the worst number one seeds in NBA history.

“We didn’t have a meeting, but it was a reality check for us,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley who talked about how the team was “humbled after losing two games.”

They had a choice.

They could feel sorry for themselves and continue to struggle, or as Bradley put it, “come here (Chicago) and make history.”

The Celtics did just that, becoming the first number one seed in the best-of-seven series era to lose the first two games at home, and respond by winning the next four which includes a 105-83 Game 6 win to eliminate the Bulls.

Boston’s blowout victory was fueled in large part by a furious third quarter in which they dominated the Bulls in every way imaginable, outscoring Chicago 34-16 in the quarter which gave them a decisive 88-59 lead going into the fourth.

The 29-point lead after three quarters was a historical moment. It now stands as the largest lead the Celtics have had in a road playoff game after three quarters of play.

Boston moves on to the Conference semi-finals where they will face the Washington Wizards with Game 1 expected to be at the TD Garden on Sunday.

Fourth-year coach Brad Stevens advances past the first round of the playoffs for the first time, while the Celtics franchise is in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

And in the final game of the series, the Celtics’ depth proved to be just too much for the injury-riddled Bulls to overcome.

Former Celtic Rajon Rondo, who led the Bulls to wins in Games 1 and 2, suffered a fractured right thumb injury in Game 2 and was unable to return in the series.

And while Jimmy Butler had a strong 23-point performance in Game 6, he was hampered to some extent by sore knees which more than anything, seemed to take something away from his explosiveness both as a scorer and to defend at a high level.

The player benefiting most from Butler’s less-than-ideal status health-wise, was Avery Bradley.

After scoring a playoff career-high 24 points in Boston’s Game 5 win, he got off to a fast start in Game 6 with nine of his 23 points scored in the first quarter.

Bradley’s scoring, primarily from 3-point range, was indicative of how the game began for the Celtics.

They opened with a 9-4 run, with all nine points coming from 3-point range.

Chicago got a couple shots to go down, but Boston went on an 8-2 spurt that gave them their first double-digit lead 21-11, after back-to-back dunks by Gerald Green and Al Horford, respectively.

Boston’s control remained strong as the first quarter ended with the Celtics ahead 30-23.

And the Celtics’ second unit picked up where the starters left off by scoring eight of the first 10 points of the second quarter to lead 38-25.

Boston’s second unit helped push the Celtics’ lead to as many as 17 points in the second before the Bulls began to chip away at it.

A lay-up by Chicago’s Paul Zipser capped off an 8-0 run by the Bulls that cut Boston’s lead to 42-33 with 5:50 to play in the first half.

Boston continued to play with in the double-digit neighborhood before closing the quarter by scoring nine of the last 13 points to lead by 13 at the half.

Celtics-Thunder preview: Balancing rest and rhythm

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Celtics-Thunder preview: Balancing rest and rhythm

BOSTON – With the NBA playoffs looming, this is a tricky time of year for most of the league’s playoff-bound teams. 

Both players and coaches want to head into the postseason well-rested. 

But they also want to be in a good playing rhythm.

MORE - OKC not taking shorthanded C's for granted

Injuries have forced the Boston Celtics to sit some players who are likely to be able to play (and well-rested) when the playoffs. 

And tonight’s foe, the Oklahoma City Thunder, are in a similar situation as well. 

“It's something you're walking a tightrope on all the time, where a guy is really rested but you've taken him out of rhythm,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “The biggest thing is, there's gotta be communication between the players and the medical staff, coaches, of where guys are, what they need.

Donovan added, “I think rest this time of year would help any player, but there's a balance between maybe getting too much rest and maybe getting out of rhythm. The players are always walking that line during the course of the year, because you kind of get into a rhythm of playing every other day, you get into that, and then there's a back to back here or there, and you get three games in four nights, but yeah. You try to best as you can with your players, help them balance that the best they can.”

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook can see how some players might need to strike a balance between getting enough rest late in the season while maintaining a good playing rhythm.  

So, I asked him which is his preference?

“I prefer to play,” he said. “Rhythm and all that (expletive), it’s in your mind.”

For Westbrook, maybe so. 

But it is very real to a number of players in the NBA, among them being his teammate and fellow All-Star Paul George. 

“If you know why you’re in the gym and the work you’re getting, you lock in,” George said. “You prepare, get your work done. And you get off your legs, get off our feet and get your rest. It’s easy to balance the two when you know what exactly you’re doing and you know exactly what you need to do.”

Boston has worked to strike that balance with Kyrie Irving all season.

That’s why the five-time All-Star is averaging 24.4 points per game which is 11th in the league. However, he’s doing it in 32.2 minutes which ranks 55th in the league in minutes played per game. 

Lately, Irving has gotten more time off than he would like as he deals with a sore left knee that has kept him sidelined for the Celtics’ last three games. 

It doesn’t appear to be something that will limit him now.

However, having him sit out games now increases the likelihood that he’ll be ready to roll at or near full strength, when the playoffs arrive. 

Boston is also playing without Jaylen Brown who suffered a concussion when he fell on his back following a dunk at Houston on March 3. He is expected to return at some point between now and the end of the regular season which could be a blessing in disguise for the 6-foot-7 Brown who will be called upon to not only remain Boston’s next-best scoring option to Kyrie Irving, but also defend at a high level. 

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens acknowledged that they have given thought to how to find that happy medium between resting guys while ensuring as best they can, that players will be refreshed for the playoffs. 

“We haven’t been in that situation very often, where we choose to do rest except for that stretch in December when we rested Al (Horford),” Stevens said. “But everything else has kind of happened organically with guys being dinged up or whatever the case may be. I think that’s … we’ll probably be in a situation where we will continue to have those discussions.”


Thunder not taking shorthanded Celtics for granted

Thunder not taking shorthanded Celtics for granted

Oklahoma City All-Star Paul George knows the Boston Celtics team he and his Thunder teammates will face tomorrow night, won’t be at full strength.

But he’s wise enough to know if you focus too much on an opponent’s key losses to their roster, that same team can potentially hand you a loss which is the last thing the Thunder need right now in what’s shaping up to be a tightly contested Western Conference playoff race.

MORE - I.T. isn't ruling out return to C's

Currently fourth in the standings, only four games separate teams No. 3-8. Only Houston (56-14) and Golden State (53-17) have secured a postseason berth. 

Which means the Celtics won’t catch Oklahoma City sleeping on them heading into tomorrow night’s game. 

“We are going to address it the same way regardless of who's in there,” George said. “We got to pick these games up. We lost the game on our floor earlier this season.”

But that was early in the season when the Thunder were still trying to figure out how its newly formed core of Russell Westbrook, George and Carmelo Anthony, could mesh.

Oklahoma City has gotten stronger as the season progressed, and are one of the hottest teams around with six straight wins, the most recent being a 132-125 victory at Eastern Conference-leading Toronto. 

Meanwhile, Boston (47-23) has lost its last two games and three of four so from a momentum standpoint, the Thunder have every reason to feel as though they’ll emerge victorious tomorrow night. 

And they also have added motivation from their Nov. 3 matchup with the Celtics in Oklahoma City that ended with a 101-94 win for Boston. 

Westbrook had 19 points and 11 assists in that game but shot 7-for-20 from the field. Carmelo Anthony had 14 points but did so on a woeful 3-for-17 shooting. And then there was George’s 25 points on 9-for-20 shooting to go with 10 rebounds. 

“We have to show who we are,” George said.

Who they are, is a team that’s fighting for home court in at least the first round of the playoffs where they are currently fourth in the West. 

And their success in the last six games has been fueled by strong play at both ends of the floor. 


In that stretch, Oklahoma City is averaging 116.2 points which ranks second in the NBA during that span. Defensively, they are allowing 104.5 points which is the 10th-fewest allowed in the last six games.

“Just making the right plays, offensively and defensively” is how Westbrook described the team’s recent run of success. 

And the Thunder have every intention of keeping it going against a beat-up Celtics squad that they know they can’t take lightly. 

“Again, we are playing really well,” George said. “A step back if we lose no matter who's in or who's out would hurt us.”