Celtics storm Bulls in Game 3 for possible series-turning win

Celtics storm Bulls in Game 3 for possible series-turning win

One player can change a game, a playoff series, a direction of a franchise.

That player is Rajon Rondo, as his absence robbed the Bulls of their structure, their confidence and their edge. His absence gave the Boston Celtics new life, turning this surprising series on a trifle as they stormed into the United Center and took Game 3 of the first-round playoff series with a 104-87 win Friday night.

The Celtics have a chance to reset the series on Sunday evening with a win as the Bulls looked nothing like the confident outfit that stole two games in TD Garden to start the series.

The direct effect of Rondo being in a sportcoat was highlighted by Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade’s statsheet and the mere sight of Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams, things that should scare even the most ardent Bulls optimist.

Butler couldn’t find decent driving lanes all game, and along with Wade, was forced to try too much one-on-one play, feeding right into the Celtics’ hands.

The two combined to shoot 13 for 39, part of a miserable, disjointed and ugly offensive performance where they shot just 38 percent and tallied only 11 assists compared to 28 in Game 2 and 22 in Game 1.

“You got a guy who's been in so many playoff series, finals, championships,” Wade said. “You can't replace that. Our guys gotta come in and be better. But we can't replace what Rondo brings. With every injury and every blow, it hurts the team in the moment and we have to move past it. We have to, with our point guards and young players on this roster, to be better.”

Butler, who goes to the line nine times a game in the regular season and averaged the same amount in the first two games, didn’t see a free throw at all due to solid defense from Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley.

“Shot a lot of jump shots,” Butler said simply. “When you do that, you don't get to the free throw line. I like my shots, I'm okay with that. I have been to the free throw line a lot this year and I think it's helped. But you gotta take what the defense gives you. I shot jumpers.”

Add to the fact Grant and Carter-Williams could barely get the ball upcourt and certainly couldn’t be counted on making simple entry passes made for an easy win for the Celtics, who were desperate for a win.

Seven of the Bulls’ 17 turnovers came from the point guards, who combined to shoot three for 10.

“We do have confidence on those other guys,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “The experience of getting that first start for Jerian, we’ll go back and watch the film on what we’re gonna do. Anytime he’s filled in that spot, he’s done a solid job for us.”

It didn’t translate and now Hoiberg has to instill some level of confidence in his point guards if he’s going to continue to play them for the remainder of the series, as they looked downright spooked in the atmosphere of the postseason—at home, no less.

“I think human nature might have a bit of that but you can’t allow that to happen,” Hoiberg said. “We have confidence in our guards, they’ve given us good play this year. We need to put in things that are simple, try to create some confidence for those players.”

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Without Rondo, they’ve missed more than stability at the position and pace and smarts; They’re without their version of a Celtics cheat code and the pendulum of confidence seems to have swung.

“I'm sure some of our young guys, being in the game without Rondo, it wasn't ideal for those guys,” Wade said. “He means so much to our team, he's been a great leader to those guys. Once the ball goes up, you gotta play.”

“We're not gonna put this all on missing Rondo because if that's the case you might as well not show up because we'll be missing him for awhile.”

The Celtics’ confidence showed in their approach to the game, as they took a 20-10 lead and stretched it to 18 before the end of the first by stretching their range, hitting seven of their 17 3-point baskets.

“Bottom line, tonight they came and threw the first punch. It took us a whole quarter to respond,” Hoiberg said.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens made a lineup change before the start, leaving Al Horford as his only true big and inserting wing Gerald Green in the first five instead of Amir Johnson. Green scored just eight but the personnel change allowed the Celtics to play faster as they spread the floor and relentlessly zigged and zagged until the Bulls said “Uncle”.

Horford was getting dominated by Robin Lopez on the glass in the first two games but rebounded in a big way, scoring 18 with eight rebounds and six assists. Even though the Bulls wound up restoring a bit of order in the second by playing Butler, Wade and Paul Zipser to create length against the Celtics guards, cutting a 20-point lead down to one only lasted for so long before the Celtics again took control in the third with a 32-22 advantage.

“We have to. We feel we have to play better defensively,” Wade said. “Offensively will take care of itself. They came out offensively and put it on us. The offense is the shiny part of it but if we do what we need to do defensively, we'll be fine.”

The Celtics didn’t turn the ball over as much as they did at home, and had balanced scoring across the board as Bradley was efficient on offense and hellish on ballhandlers, finishing with 15 points, seven assists and seven rebounds in 36 minutes.

Crowder was just six of 15 but was a plus-23 and scored 16, as every Celtic starter hit at least two triples, keeping the Bulls on their heels all night.

“It’s a totally different team,” Crowder said. “We felt like with the switching we’d really throw a curveball at him. Try to make them stagnant as possible without the primary ball handler which is Rondo, passing the ball and creating for others. We had a good game plan going into it.”

Isaiah Thomas showed his value once he wasn’t hounded by Rondo, making Wade and Butler work on the defensive end and freeing things up on the outside. He didn’t have an offensive explosion, although he drew enough attention to find Horford multiple times for duck-ins and dunks.

His nine assists to go with his 16 points displayed a smart enough floor game, but one would think he’s going to find his range sooner rather than later—which should scare the team that has to face him Sunday afternoon.

A series can turn on a trifle, and that trifle has turned.

NBA, NBPA announce two positive coronavirus tests from Orlando quarantine

NBA, NBPA announce two positive coronavirus tests from Orlando quarantine

It might be working.

The NBA's ambitious plan to restart its 2019-20 season in a so-called "bubble" on the Disney World campus showed a positive sign Monday. The league and National Basketball Players Association jointly announced that of 322 players tested for COVID-19 since teams began arriving in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and entered quarantine with daily testing, only two positive cases have returned.

The statement said those two players never cleared quarantine and are either isolating at home after leaving the campus or in isolation housing.

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This was always the most critical step to getting the restart off the ground — moving teams from their in-market quarantine periods to inside the bubble. That only two positive cases have thus far emerged has to be viewed as an encouraging sign, especially given that players are tested daily once inside the bubble.

The NBA and NBPA also announced that 19 players have tested positive since July 1, when testing began in each team's respective home markets as players gathered for their initial quarantine period.

Those players have remained in their home markets, and will stay there until they are cleared by CDC guidelines and NBA rules for exiting home isolation and entering the bubble. James Harden is one high-profile name that has yet to join the Rockets on the NBA campus, although the team has not specified why, which is each team's right.

Monday's news isn't to suggest the 22-team restart plan is in the clear. Hurdles can arise at any time (two players have already been publicly identified for breaking quarantine), particularly given that workers on the Disney campus aren't subjected to the same daily testing regimens that all NBA personnel are. The NBA and NBPA have instituted rules to limit contact for these workers and league personnel.

The Bulls, like the other seven teams not invited to the restart, are watching what is transpiring at Disney World closely. If the restart succeeds, it increases the chances for a second bubble for the teams left behind, which would be for development purposes and likely take place in Chicago.

RELATED: Sources: NBA considering Chicago, Wintrust Arena for 'Delete 8' bubble


NBA bubble: Kings' Richaun Holmes 'briefly and accidentally' breaks quarantine

NBA bubble: Kings' Richaun Holmes 'briefly and accidentally' breaks quarantine

On Monday, Richaun Holmes announced via Twitter that he accidentally broke quarantine in the NBA's Walt Disney World bubble, and is currently isolated in accordance with the league's Health and Safety Protocols.

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Holmes cited picking up a food delivery as the reason for his accidentally stepping outside of quarantine lines, and apologized to his teammates in the statement. His mother Lydecia had some fun with her son on social media in the wake of the news:

He'll now have to complete a designated ten-day quarantine period — which he said there are eight days remaining in — accompanied by testing and medical evaluation before returning to team activities. The NBA's Health and Safety Protocols say that such a quarantine period would take place "in a hotel room or other campus property," and can be extended to 14 days if so advised by a consulting infectious disease physician.

Because games haven't started yet, Holmes won't incur any financial penalty for games missed due to his breaking quarantine. But ESPN's Bobby Marks has the details on what those ramifications would have looked like for Holmes if he had made the mistake during the season restart.

ESPN also reported Monday that Rockets forward Bruno Caboclo accidentally broke quarantine, and has eight days remaining in his designated isolation period.

Holmes is a Lockport, Ill. native, and played one season at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills before finishing his college career with three years at Bowling Green State. He was selected in the second round (No. 37 overall) of the 2015 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers.

With averages of 12.8 points and 8.3 rebounds (65.4% FG) in 28.8 minutes per game, Holmes is enjoying the best season of his career with the Kings, who enter the bubble 3.5 games back of the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed in the West.