BOSTON – For most of this season, the Boston Celtics have managed to claw their way out of self-inflicted struggles eventually.
But the hole they’re in now will be unprecedented for this franchise following Tuesday’s 111-97 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
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You have to go back to the 1969 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers the last time a Celtics team trailed 2-0 in a best-of-seven series and rallied to win it.
But those two losses back in 1969 were on the road, and these two were on the Celtics’ home floor.
And unfortunately for the Celtics, 1969 Bill Russell and 1969 Sam Jones aren’t walking through the door.
Only 18 teams in NBA history have ever come back from a 2-0 series deficit which has happened each of the last two seasons. (Cleveland last year against Golden State, and Portland against the Los Angeles Clippers in 2015).
But this series, while far from over, has a feeling of when – not if – the Bulls will become the latest eighth-seed to knock off a top seed in the first round.
The formula for Chicago’s success – rebounding and solid defense – served the Bulls well in Both Games 1 and 2.
But on Tuesday, the Celtics continued to fight back in the fourth quarter in what was an uphill climb all game.
After falling behind by double digits in the third and early in the fourth quarter, Boston was within 89-80 following a 3-pointer by Kelly Olynyk with just over 10 minutes to play.
Following a Bulls time-out, ex-Celtic Rajon Rondo scored on a scoop shot over Kelly Olynyk.
Boston could have made it a single-digit game again, but Jae Crowder’s 3-pointer was off the mark and in a scramble for the loose ball it wound up going off a Celtics player.
It has been that kind of series for the Celtics.
When opportunities present themselves to make potential momentum-shifting plays, they shriveled up like a slug dipped in salt water.
The Celtics didn’t get the deficit down to single digits until a 3-pointer by Marcus Smart made it a 95-86 game.
But the Bulls once again countered with good defense and better offense, forcing the Celtics to call a time-out following an uncontested dunk by Cristiano Felicio that capped off a 7-0 Bulls run that made it a 102-86 game with 6:01 to play.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens called a time-out, hoping that maybe just maybe, his team could at least make a solid finish.
Sadly, it was more of the same for the Celtics as the Bulls got anything and everything they wanted at both ends of the floor.
And with the series now shifting to Chicago, things won’t get any easier for a Boston team that’s on the verge of being the rare No. 1 seed to get bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
Boston simply doesn’t have the muscle to contend with Chicago inside, and Chicago’s Big Three – Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and ex-Celtic Rajon Rondo.
Similar to how the Celtics began the game, they opened the third quarter with a nice 13-6 run to come within 60-59 following a lay-up by Isaiah Thomas.
At the start of the game, Boston came out with what looked like a clear mandate to be a more physical, aggressive team at both ends of the floor.
And it worked as they opened things with a 7-2 run.
But the Bulls soon got back to what they’ve done well – attack the offensive glass.
They soon began scoring around the rim, and led by as 12 points in the first quarter.
Robin Lopez continued to cause the Celtics problems around the paint which is where the Bulls outscored Boston 32-20 in the first half.
The Bulls shot 47.1 percent from the field in the first half, with strong contributions from their bench.
But instead of Bobby Portis who had 19 points and nine rebounds in Game 1, Paul Zipser chipped in eight points on 3-for-4 shooting.
As bad as Boston was playing, the Celtics did finish the first quarter with an 8-2 run to come within 31-26 after one quarter of play.
Boston usually starts the second quarter with Thomas on the bench.
But considering the deficit they were trailing by and the significance of this game, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens decided to keep his best scorer on the floor.
His presence was felt as the Celtics opened the second with an 8-2 spurt to lead 34-33 following a Marcus Smart put-back basket.
But the lead was short-lived after Portis drained a corner 3-pointer to put the Bulls back on top 36-34.
On Boston’s ensuing possession, Smart drove into the lane and found Jae Crowder open for a game-tying lay-up.
The Celtics would not get any closer for the remainder of the half.