Just one day after Isaiah Thomas and the rest of the world learned that his younger sister passed away tragically in a car accident in Tacoma, Washington, the Celtics hosted the Bulls for Game One of the first round of the playoffs. Upon hearing the news, I don’t think one soul expected Thomas to suit up for this one. Maybe some wanted him to play, or simply do what he felt was best for him. Whether he took to the parquet to take his mind off of the tragedy for a few hours or stayed at home to mourn, fans were going to understand and feel for him nonetheless. For me, at least, if he played, whether he scored two points or two hundred points, I’d have the utmost respect for him for even wanting to show up in the first place. Myself and so many others just wanted him to do what he wanted to to help him cope.
Just a few hours before tipoff, Brad Stevens announced that it was Isaiah’s intention to play. Stevens wasn’t sure if he was going to play one minute or forty minutes, but he planned on IT suiting up. Isaiah did just that, remarkably. In the first eight minutes of the game, Thomas dropped a quick 13 points and drained a couple of threes, roars absolutely erupting from the sympathetic TD Garden crowd. Isaiah ended up finishing the game with 33 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists, easily the Celtics’ best player on the court Sunday night. It’s ironic, because, well, he didn’t even need to play, with an endless amount of stress on his shoulders and thousands of thoughts running through his mind and his emotions running wild. Somehow, Isaiah Thomas was the most focused Celtic on the court.
In the final minutes of the game, Boston looked like they had completely given up. Nobody really showed any heart, any effort, nothing. They looked tired. They looked beaten. Stevens ended up putting Thomas back in, and in only a matter of time, IT brought them back within only a few points of tying. A couple of hard drives to the basket from a small guy with a huge heart kept them in it. Unfortunately, that didn’t even drive the rest of the Celtics to want to give it their all, very much having a chance to win in the final minute or so. Thomas was the last guy I expected to be that locked in, but he shocked myself and so many others with his courage. I guess that’s just the type of person and player he is. I truly hope that any kids watching realized what they were witnessing to some degree.
In the second half, Stevens hesitated to play Thomas. IT wasn’t on the floor to start a good chunk of the fourth quarter, for some reason. I don’t think that Isaiah didn’t want to be out there, so I’m not sure what was going on there. We all know that this team revolves around Isaiah Thomas and need him out there if they want to win games. Why they didn’t play him more, I’m not sure. There were many other factors that went into this loss, but that one stands out to me a lot. He was quite clearly the most focused player for Boston the entire night from start to finish. Brad rarely thinks twice about putting Isaiah in once the fourth quarter rolls around. Having him out there feeding off of the crowd's enthusiasm to close out the game could have done it for the Celtics.
One last point that I want to make regarding Isaiah was the complete BS technical slapped on him with about 6 and a half minutes left to go in regulation. I truly don’t understand why that was placed on him in the first place. Thomas barely touched the guy, but for whatever reason, got the tech. Secondly, what NBA referee in their right mind would even think about doing that during such a game? Everyone knows what Thomas is going through. The call was stupid enough already, but given the circumstances, that made it 100x more absurd. That call further solidified the notion that NBA officials are the worst in all major league sports.
As the game ticked down to the final buzzer, people on Twitter started getting on Al Horford for ‘failing to show up’, for some ungodly reason. Aside from Thomas, Horford was by far Boston’s best player on the court. Horford almost posted another triple-double, coming close once more. He was the next most complete player, getting things done at both ends of the court, big and small. In my opinion, Horford was one of the last things fans should have been angry about. That loss was a collective team effort; it wasn’t on one person, and even if it was, it was not on Horford.
One of the only negatives from Horford Sunday night was the fact that he didn’t grab even one rebound in the final 17 minutes of the game. In his defense, absolutely nobody on the Celtics did much better, either, unfortunately. It’s hard to look at the rebounding stats. Prepare your poor eyes: the Celtics were out-rebounded 53-36 overall, 20-12 offensively. To say that that’s unacceptable would be a major understatement. You will never win a game if you get out-rebounded by nearly 20. Plus, this is the Chicago freaking Bulls. They’re the 8 seed. You’re the 1 seed. That means they suck, and you don’t. The 8 seed should not grab 20 more boards than you. It’s simply putrid. I don’t know about you, but I cringed every single one of those 53 times. The game was, essentially, decided on the glass. You’d think that, by now, the Celtics, as a whole, would have figured this problem out. I hate to be ‘that guy’, but if Ainge could have stopped being stubborn for two seconds at the trade deadline, Boston wouldn’t still have this problem.
Another unavoidable, semi-depressing stat: Boston’s bench scored 2 points while Chicago’s bench racked up 35 points, 19 of those coming from...Bobby Portis. Yeah, I have no clue who he is, either. The Celtics’ bench as is is just a mess. From Olynyk to Zeller, it just isn’t pretty. You cannot constantly rely on Thomas to score you 30+ every game and hope that Avery Bradley goes off. The entirety of Boston’s bench needs to figure it out, and soon. Offensively and defensively, they simply cannot get it done. Watching Kelly Olynyk attempt to defend is painful. Just seeing Tyler Zeller out on the parquet is rough, too.
Not only did Bobby Portis of all people absolutely torch the Celtics in all categories, old friend Rajon Rondo was on triple-double watch, with 27 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. 31-year old Rondo who hasn’t seen the playoffs in five years. Dwyane Wade had a game, as well, putting up 34/5/6. In his one millionth playoff game, Wade still kills his opponents at 35 years old. That’s kind of inevitable, I guess, but 34 points is absurd. The Celtics all around defensively pooped the bed, as you can probably tell. They had actually begun to figure it out defensively nearing the end of the season, too, which is upsetting to see all of it quickly go to waste. Marcus Smart had a few defensive high points, but his low points in the final minutes really stuck out.
If it wasn’t obvious before, the Celtics really aren’t a true one seed. As long as LeBron James is alive, the Cavs will always be the best team in the East. It was cool to say that Boston is a one seed while we could, at least. A true one seed would have shown much more heart and much more effort, especially for their grieving teammate, and against such a crappy Bulls team who barely squeaked into the postseason. The majority of the team showed zero heart at a time when they needed to show heart the most, for Thomas and the fans. This was the perfect game to prove the doubters and critics wrong at a sensitive time. Thomas was shown crying on the sidelines pregame, in the embrace of teammate Bradley. Just seeing that should have sent the Celtics another message that they needed to play for him, in honor of his family. They epically failed to do that and embarrassed themselves on national television, against a team that they should either have swept or should beat in five or six games.
I still strongly feel that even after that tsunami aftermath of a basketball game, the Celtics are lightyears better than the Bulls and will win the series in 6. I’m confident that they will not put up another collective performance like that the rest of the way, however long that may be in the end. They played the absolute worst that they could and still only lost by four. They can easily claw their way out of this series alive and advance, if they truly care enough. And I think they do care enough to do so. This had to have been another major wakeup call for them, and they’re going to respond on Tuesday.