Play of Thomas and Rondo critical in Celtics-Bulls series

Play of Thomas and Rondo critical in Celtics-Bulls series

BOSTON – It’s fair to say that the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls have both outperformed the expectations many had for their respective teams a few weeks ago.
The Celtics were seen as a good team, but few – outside of maybe Avery Bradley – would have envisioned them finishing the regular season with the best record in the East.

Yes, better than Cleveland!
And the Bulls who seemed to be mired in problems on the floor and within the locker room, rallied to win seven of its last nine games and sneak into the eighth and final playoff slot.


Several contributing factors have come into play leading them to where they are now.
But few stand out more than their point guards who are All-Star guards of the Celtics’ present (Isaiah Thomas) and their past (former Celtic Rajon Rondo).
Their play with be critical in their first-round matchup which begins on Sunday at the TD Garden at 6:30 p.m., and can also be seen on CSN.
“I just want to go out there and win,” Rondo told reporters after Chicago’s 39-point win against Brooklyn to secure the eighth playoff seed. “So my only focus is to get the win.”
Chicago has done just that, winning seven of their last nine games.
And the play of Rajon Rondo has been a significant part of the Bulls’ late-season surge.
It’s surprising when you consider all the issues that he and the Bulls had this year which at one point led to head coach Fred Hoiberg taking him out of the rotation altogether not to mention some social media back-and-forth barbs between Rondo and Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler.
But through the disagreements and disappointing play for long stretches this season, Chicago righted the ship in time to get into the postseason where they’ll face a Celtics team that is led by Thomas.
The 5-foot-9 guard was named to his second straight All-Star team in February, and did so with the kind of season that will get him some serious league MVP consideration behind the two odds-on favorites; Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and Houston’s James Harden.
Thomas averaged 28.9 points per game this season which ranks third in the league, and tops among Eastern Conference players.
While some – me – will look at the Bulls as a team the Celtics eliminate, Thomas isn’t about to dismiss them as anything other than a team that’s coming to the playoffs with the same goal – win Game 1 and see what happens.
“It will be a good matchup for us,” Thomas said. “They’re the eighth seed but they’re better than what seed they are. They’re a really good team especially with Dwyane Wade back. So we have to be ready for them.”
Wade suffered an elbow injury that at the time was deemed season-ending. But as the Bulls clawed their way back into the playoff picture, Wade’s status changed to where he’s now available and starting for the Bulls.
The respect that Thomas has for Rondo does indeed go both ways.
“He's probably playing the best out of any point guard as far as scoring the ball and his team is winning,” Rondo said of Thomas. “It’s either him or (Cleveland’s) Kyrie (Irving); take your pick.”
Indeed, Thomas’ numbers and the team’s success will certainly enhance his long-shot candidacy for the league’s MVP award.
But being the number one seed, while nice, can only be the jumping-off point for the Celtics and not their final destination.
“I’ve never been a number one seed,” Thomas said. “So it’s definitely something I’m excited about. But in the playoffs, seeding goes out the window.”
The Bulls certainly hope that’s the case.
But even if they are eliminated quickly as expected, for them to even make the playoffs is a victory in itself.
“We've been through a lot,” Rondo said. “But at the beginning of the season we said we want to make the playoffs, regardless of the spot we're in. We're where we want to be.”
The Celtics (53-29) feel the same way.

Horford helps Celtics get back on track

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Horford helps Celtics get back on track

Aggressive Al Horford was on the floor Friday night for the Boston Celtics, a good sign for a Celtics team that has been battered by injuries. 

As the oldest member of the team, the 31-year-old’s leadership has to become more example-driven as well as existing in the spoken word.

CELTICS TALK PODCAST  - Smart's importance to C's, dissecting the East

Horford was on point for most of Friday’s 92-83 win over Orlando, a game that was far more lopsided in Boston’s favor than the final score might indicate.

The 6-foot-10 forward/center had a near double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds. 

What was more telling was that Horford took a team-high 18 shots from the field, as clear a sign as you will find that Horford’s mindset on Friday was to attack Orlando’s defense early and often. 

And while it’s true that the Magic are one of the worst teams in the NBA, that doesn’t diminish the way Horford executed the plays called by head coach Brad Stevens as Horford played the role of primary scorer more often than usual, instead of being a major facilitator.

Having missed Boston’s previous two games, Horford was admittedly concerned if the lay-off might affect his conditioning. 

“Wind-wise I felt good,” Horford told reporters after Friday night’s win. “A little rusty on offense. But defensively I felt great. I felt our team came out with energy; just a good win.” 

A win that became a lot easier to get with Aggressive Al on the floor. 

 Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds in Boston’s 92-83 win over Orlando.



Terry Rozier: He continues to provide the Celtics with really solid guard play, with all-star guard Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness) missing. Rozier had a game high-tying 17 points along with seven rebounds and five assists. 

Greg Monroe: The third quarter was when Monroe really began to take over the game. He finished with 17 points, 10 of which came in the third. 

Shelvin Mack: Not a lot to cheer about for Mack and the Magic who once again struggled in so many phases of the game. But Mack still managed to score 16 points. 



Al Horford: Having missed the two previous games, Horford was back in full force on Friday. He had 15 points on 6-for-18 shooting to go with nine rebounds

Boston rebounding: The Celtics control of the glass began from the outset and never really eased up. For the game, Boston grabbed 55 rebounds compared to just 40 by Orlando. 



Fourth-quarter Celtics: The only real blemish on an otherwise impressive performance by Boston, was the team’s overall play in the fourth quarter. Boston was outscored 31-17 and turned the ball over 10 times in the quarter. 


Celtics snap skid with dominant win over Magic, 92-83

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Celtics snap skid with dominant win over Magic, 92-83

The Orlando Magic are one of the few teams already eliminated from playoff contention. 

And on Friday, it didn’t take long to see why.

CELTICS TALK PODCAST - Smart's importance, dissecting the Eastern Conference

The Boston Celtics didn’t waste any time taking control of the game and never letting up as they cruised to a 92-83 win.

Terry Rozier and Greg Monroe led the Celtics with 17 points each and Shelvin Mack had 16 points and seven rebounds for Orlando.  

With the win, the Celtics (47-22) snapped a two-game losing skid and improved their record since returning from the All-Star break to 7-3. 

Getting back on a winning track was just part of Boston’s motivation heading into Friday night’s game. 

With several key players out with injuries, the Celtics’ depth was once again on display from the opening tip to the final horn. 

In the first half, reserve guard Shane Larkin led the team in scoring with 10 points. 

And in the third quarter, backup center Greg Monroe was too much for the Magic to handle around the basket.

In the third, Monroe scored 10 of his 17 points off Boston’s bench. 

This was a game that the Celtics showed few signs of the kind of let-up we have seen them display against bad teams from time to time. 

But Orlando opened the fourth quarter with a 9-2 run that cut Boston’s lead down to 77-61 with 9:18 to play. 

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens had seen enough and called a time-out. 

Orlando was able to chip away a little more at Boston’s lead which peaked at 24 points but was down to single digits in the fourth which provided a glimmer of hope that maybe just maybe, the Magic could get back in the game.

But when it mattered, Boston made the plays in the game’s closing moments to secure the victory. 

For the Celtics, the goal on Friday night was two-fold: find a way to win and come away healthy. 

Boston found success on both fronts, a refreshing change the Celtics hope to do more of going forward. 

Marcus Smart underwent surgery on his right thumb earlier in the day, which is expected to keep him sidelined for 6-8 weeks which would put his return to the floor at the earliest, sometime near the end of the first round of the playoffs or early into the second. 

Daniel Theis underwent season-ending surgery recently for a meniscus tear in his left knee.

And Boston played without Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness), but he might back in the lineup for Sunday’s game against New Orleans.

Al Horford returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games due to an illness, and he didn’t disappoint in finishing with a near double-double of 15 point and nine rebounds.