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On To Round Two…

…so I made a prediction for the Boston Celtics first round series against the Chicago Bulls.  I had the Celtics initially beating the Bulls 4 games to 2.  Then I changed it because of Isaiah Thomas’ sisters untimely passing.  Made it 4-3 C’s.  Should have kept it at C’s in 6.  Have I not learned from going against my first inclination…in most situations?  Guess not.  Oh well…

The Celtics woke up from dropping the first two at home, Game 2 being especially frustrating and actually, embarrassing.  It helped that Rajon Rondo got hurt and did not play in the Bulls 4 defeats.  I knew Rondo would step up his game for the Celtics and the playoffs in general.  I was surprised to see what kind of difference he seemed to actually be making on the floor.  Especially after his uneven year.  I suppose you can never predict which version of Rondo he will bring to the floor.  But it was a big loss for the Bulls.

Apparently, Jimmy Butler was going through some physical issues as well, despite being on the floor as much as he usually is.  Every player most assuredly has something going on physically at this time of year.  But when Rondo plays awesome and you lose him…and your best player in Butler is fighting something also…those are big detriments.  Of course that goes without saying.

The Celtics definitely played better starting in Game 3.  But they were helped by the situations noted above, no question.  Food for thought heading into the second round matchup with the Washington Wizards.

The Wizards?  I’m not sure how much I can tell ya.  Similar to the Bulls, I can’t say I have watched a ton of Wizard basketball, if any.  I look and see that Washington and Boston split their season series 2-2.  The Celtics won both games at home by single digits, while they got walloped both times in the nation’s capital.  I can also tell you there has been some bad blood this year between the teams…for only God knows why.  I remember Jae Crowder getting worked up over something and putting his finger on John Wall’s nose after one game.  But per usual with basketball “fights”, I didn’t pay much attention to it.  The NBA has a bunch of fraudulent tough guys that talk a lot of smack, then when it gets physical, flail around like they’ve never thrown a fist ever…or run away still yapping and flexing their muscles and all that.  Not worth my time…

Anyway, as for the matchups, Avery Bradley will presumably guard Bradley Beal.  AB gives up 3 inches to Beal, but maybe the “disrespect” Bradley felt in Round 1 will continue to spur him on.  Marcus Smart gives up only an inch, so he should help here too.

But I don’t know how Isaiah is going to guard John Wall.  (Well, maybe this “defensive” matchup will be a wash, with Wall having to cover IT).  And I don’t know who is going to keep Marcin Gortat off the glass.  Maybe even Markieff Morris, for that matter.  Rebounding is still an issue for the Celts, and will be until/if they decide to fix that in the offseason.  Otto Porter killed them in their first matchup, but I’m going to worry about the other 4 starters over him.  Maybe that’s a mistake.  Especially if Brad Stevens leaves Gerald Green in the starting lineup.  Green would then likely guard Porter (Jae Crowder on Morris, Al Horford on Gortat).  Not necessarily ideal for Green to be guarding…anyone.

I will give Stevens credit however.  He made the change going to Green against Chicago, instead of Amir Johnson.  I’ve been saying for quite some time now that I have no idea what Johnson brings to the table.  Supposed to be a power forward but averages about four and a half rebounds a game.  At least Green can score.  But is this the right strategy for the next round?  No idea.

I know that spot with Green will be rotated around with several players…primarily Smart I would say.  So it’s not like Gerald will be playing 30 minutes.  Unless he is on fire of course.  Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko will be the other main “contributors” off the bench.  But that’s ok, the Wizards bench doesn’t appear that strong…to me, anyway.  But I already told you I haven’t watched them a lot, so what do I know?

Mid-season acquisition Bojan Bogdanovic seems to be the main guy to contend with off the Wizards’ bench.  Who else, Jason Smith, Kelly Oubre?  Nah.  Maybe if they let Brandon Jennings gun it up like he did early in his career, he can make a difference.  But he shot 27% in 23 games with Washington this year after he was acquired.  His shooting percentages have always been putrid, but this certainly takes the cake.  Though he is shooting 55% in the playoffs…so again, what do I know?

That’s about all I have for analysis.  And it’s not necessarily deep analysis anyway.  But I had to say something.  Sssssoooo…the result?

Washington in 6.  It was nice that the C’s finally got over the hump and won a playoff round under Brad Stevens.  Progress is still happening, slowly, but I believe surely.  I just don’t see how they stop Wall and Beal for a whole series.  Or keep Gortat from making a big difference on the boards every game as well.  The Celtics will play hard.  Isaiah will get his.  But I think this is where it ends…

 

 

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Back From The Dead?

Talking about both Boston winter sports teams…Celtics and Bruins.  The simple answer to the question?  Not quite.  But wins on Friday night for both gives them both some hope.  For one of the squads more than the other, but we will get to that.

If I had written this piece before Friday night, I would have entitled it “Life Support?”.  Because it had seemed at that point that the playoffs were over for both teams before they had even really begun.  Prospects were indeed bleak.  One win apiece doesn’t necessarily change that.  But things may be looking up.

The Bruins had the most exciting win of the two.  Took them until double overtime to get it done.  And won by someone who most people had never heard of…Sean Kuraly.  8 regular season games for the B’s with one assist.  2 playoff games with no points.  Averaged less than 10 minutes a game in those 10 contests.  Then in Game 5, back in for a benched Ryan Spooner, over 28 minutes played and 2 goals?  What?!

Of course the B’s should have won in the first overtime, but let’s not even go there.

This series with Ottawa has been a dogfight, no question.  The Senators have outscored the B’s 12-11.  3 OT games out of 5.  A bounce here or there and the B’s could be in the lead actually.

Do I think the win Friday will spur the Bruins to victory in the series?  No, I don’t.  I’m thinking they will actually lose Game 6 Sunday (of course making my Ottawa 4-2 series win prediction come true!).

Why?

I just don’t think the B’s have the horses.  For as much as the Game 5 win will pump their spirits and probably do wonders for them mentally, the physical aspect cannot be ignored.  How much do they have left in the tank?  About 39 hours after the finish of Game 5, they will lace them up for Game 6.  David Krejci, who wasn’t healthy in the first place, left last game early with another injury.  Hard to believe he will suit up for the next one.  Brandon Carlo, Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid presumably are still out.

The defense is the real key here.  It’s amazing they have only allowed 12 goals in the series with some of the characters on the blue line.  Tommy Cross had to play in one game!  Yeah, Ottawa is no offensive juggernaut for sure.  And Tuukka Rask has had his “7 million dollar goalie” moments.  He has not played as well as people will lead you to believe…and admittedly part of that has been because of the rotating defensmen around him.  But he was absolutely fantastic for at least the second half of Game 5 though, no question.

Back to the defense though, Zdeno Chara played over 36 minutes Friday and is averaging almost 30 for the series.  40 years old and still a good player.  But…that’s some serious mileage so far.  Charlie McAvoy?  He may have plenty of juice for Game 6, but can we guarantee he keeps playing the way he has been?  Perhaps the intensity in the NHL playoffs will wear him down a bit?  And Joe Morrow played almost 30 minutes Friday.  Joe Morrow?  Seems he played pretty well, but can we count on that going forward?

For the Bruins, great win in Game 5.  But I see that as the last hurrah.  Unless Brad Marchand finally decides to show up…

On to the Celtics…

Now this one is a different story.  Game 1 disappointment, Game 2 atrocity.  Then a Game 3 rebound on the road.  Though a blown 20 point lead early doesn’t help matters.  Even if they still won by 17.

I don’t love the Celtics’ chances overall for the entire playoffs.  But I do think they come back and win this series.  And no, not just cuz Rajon Rondo is likely done for the series.  Rondo has (had) clearly stepped up his game for this series.  And I didn’t think “National TV Rondo” would show up for the series.  So I was wrong.  Wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last.

The Celtics, despite their flaws, and despite the personal situation Isaiah Thomas is still going through, are simply a better overall team than the Bulls.

Jimmy Butler will get his.  Dwayne Wade will do enough.  Robin Lopez, unfortunately, will probably still do OK against any of the Celtics’ “bigs”.  But can the rest of the Bobby Portis’, Jerian Grant’s and Paul Zipser’s keep doing what they are doing?  Maybe.  But I’m not counting on it.

This Celtic team is not a championship team by any means.  Many moves still have to be made to keep on that path.  We’ve been through all this before.  But they are too good to drop a first round series to a team that barely made the playoffs.  I would have even said that if there was still a healthy Rondo to deal with.

Now that it is 2-1, the series becomes more manageable, even if Game 4 is in Chicago.

I can’t say that I thought inserting Gerald Green into the starting lineup in Game 3 was the perfect answer.  But it didn’t hurt.  Brad Stevens will have to continue to mix and match to find solutions.  And despite his putrid career playoff record, I somehow have faith that he will.  For this round anyway.

I see a C’s win in Game 4, but still a 6-7 game series, probably 7.  It won’t be easy.  But at least winning Game 3 gave them a shot to get back in this thing.  And sure, their 3-point shooting in Game 3 was off the charts.  I hate all the threes, but that’s their game.  I expect more of the same going forward.

In any event, it makes for a good day of Sunday viewing.  Along with the Boston Red Sox trying to actually win a game in Baltimore.  But that’s a story for a different day…

First Round Upset Brewing?

For the Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA playoffs that start tonight?  Against the mediocre Chicago Bulls?  Are you f’n serious?

A little bit actually, sorry to say.

From the get-go, I’ve been a little nervous about the series.  On paper, the C’s should win in 5 or 6 fairly comfortably.  But the news of yesterday kind of got me thinking about things.

The news from yesterday?  Chyna Thomas.  Yup, wait…who?

For those who haven’t heard, Chyna was a younger sister of Celtics star Isaiah Thomas and was killed in a car accident Saturday morning.  We all know what this team looks like without Isaiah.  And a lot of times it simply ain’t pretty.

My guess is that IT plays in all the games.  But, for one, he will quite obviously be playing with a heavy heart, as he damn well should be.  For two, between games, he will be logging some serious travel miles out to Washington state during the series to be with his family.  One could argue that he should just skip games to spend time with his family during this difficult situation.  And one may be right…he probably should.  I just don’t believe he will, right or wrong.

Isaiah has been awesome this year, especially in the 4th quarter.  But this will, and should, take some toll on him.  Although basketball is certainly secondary to real life, the games must go on as they say.  And IT’s situation will probably have some effect on the series.  How much remains in question.

That all being said, as I said above, this series caused some concern for me regardless of what happened yesterday.  Let’s start by saying that finishing with the top seed in your conference doesn’t really make you the top seed.  I know, they are the #1 seed because they finished first.  So my comment may sound idiotic.  BUT, should any team going 53-29 be a top seed?  I don’t know.  Doesn’t seem like a top record for a #1 seed.  The C’s would have been 4th in the West.  And the Cleveland Cavaliers should have been better than 51-31 with that talent.

The Cavs should have cruised to 60-plus wins with that roster.  But they rested guys regularly, had some injuries, roster turnover, mentally took some games off probably and so on and so on.  But they were focused on the long haul…as any team should be.  More concerned with a championship run than seeding.  They are one of the few teams that can do that sort of thing.  My guess is when they dismantled the Celtics in Boston a couple of weeks ago, that cemented their feeling that they could beat anyone anywhere, especially in the East, and they weren’t going to expend too much energy to get the #1 seed.  Valid thinking, in my mind.

Back to the Bulls series…admittedly, I have not watched a lot of Chicago Bulls basketball this year.  And it seems that they gave up a bit on this year at the trading deadline when they shipped two rotation players and a pick to OKC for 3 guys that don’t play…this year at least.  Dwayne Wade is 150 years old.  Rajon Rondo has been a distraction, per usual, benched on occasion, not to mention the fact that it appears he hasn’t been very good this year either.

I paid such little attention to the Bulls this year that I don’t even know who some of their players are.  Cristiano Felicio.  Who?

So I guess I am completely unqualified to comment on the Bulls.  But I will anyway.  Because this piece is more about how I think the Celtics will play down to their level anyway.

Plus…the Bulls still have Jimmy Butler.  Maybe not as awesome as everyone thinks he is.  But still likely the best player in this series.  I do apologize profusely to you Isaiah.

One more thing on Rondo:  A lot of people are expecting “National TV Rondo” here this series.  You know, the one that routinely throws up triple-doubles.  I am not expecting that.  I am not sure how much of that he has left in him.  However, I do expect him to up his game though.  Sure, based on the stage.  And the opponent…to show Boston fans what they are missing.  And probably will play tighter D on Isaiah.  To also “prove” to C’s fans that he is better than Thomas.  And all that.  But…we will see…

In any event, back to my concerns with the C’s before considering all of the above.  The Celtics seem to leave a lot of teams in games, despite how average or poor the opponent is.  They have trouble scoring without Isaiah on the floor.  Brad Stevens keeps trying to play 11-12 guys…even if one or two of them are when he tries to spot in a Tyler Zeller or Gerald Green for 5 minutes or so.  Or even James Young sometimes.  Too many.

More concerns?  Ok!  They can’t rebound.  Too many threes.  Kelly Olynyk sucks.  Marcus Smart shoots too much.  Oftentimes, Al Horford doesn’t shoot enough…from inside the three-point line anyway.  We’ve been through all of this before.  It hasn’t changed.  And now it’s the playoffs.

Thus far, I believe that ownership, Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens have done well in this Celtic “rebuild”.  I don’t know if a faster path has really been available.  But the fact remains that Stevens has not won a playoff series.  Until they do, I am always going to be skeptical.  Isaiah has been bottled up pretty good in past playoffs.  Sure he gets his points, but the percentages have been brutal and the points have been tough to come by.  Jae Crowder was atrocious in the first round last year.  Blame the ankle injury if you will.  I don’t…completely.  At least he was out there.  Avery Bradley went down yet again, so he was no help.  He’s always a ticking time bomb with injury.  So who knows this year?

I’ve had the same concerns with this team that I’ve had all season and you’ve all heard before.  The playoffs are a different animal and with the Cs playing only supposedly “good” teams, any issues will be exposed.  Ultimately, I think the Celtics win the series 4 games to 3.  I had initially thought 4-2, but that changed with Isaiah’s situation.  Maybe I shouldn’t have adjusted…after all, these guys have distractions all the time and, as professionals, should be able to handle them, right?   This one feels different though.  Bottom line though?  If the C’s don’t get through the first round, the season is a colossal failure…

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