It’s too soon to analyze the collapse of the Boston Celtics, who still could make a stirring comeback. But with all that Isaiah Thomas has been through, the burden of carrying his team back from a playoff deficit is obviously a lot to ask.
Thomas plans to fly home to Seattle on Wednesday to join his family, following the death of his younger sister in a car accident last weekend.
He will rejoin the Celtics in Chicago, where the Bulls go into Game 3 on Friday with a two-game lead against the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Boston opened the series as a minus-500 favorite.
“Do I think the Celtics can come back and win? Sure, they have got a shot,” said Erin Rynning, a Sportsmemo.com handicapper and professional bettor. “But it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you’ve got to win four of five.”
The Bulls, the first 8-seed to take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-7 NBA series, are minus-270 favorites over the Celtics (plus-230) on the adjusted series price.
It’s not too soon to analyze why the Celtics collapsed in the first two games. Here are five reasons the Bulls are halfway to advancing:
* Thomas, 5-foot-9 point guard, is fighting his emotions and struggling against the Bulls’ bigger guards. Thomas was exceptional in Game 1, scoring 33 points, but his performance declined Tuesday in a 111-97 loss. Although he scored 20 points, he shot only 1-for-5 from 3-point range, 7-for-13 on free throws and committed five turnovers.
* Rajon Rondo is showing his good side. Motivated by facing his former team in the playoff spotlight, Chicago’s point guard totaled 11 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds and five steals in Game 2.
* The Bulls are better defensively and tougher on the boards. Robin Lopez is simply outplaying Boston center Al Horford.
* Dwyane Wade’s postseason experience is paying off. He still has some magic in his gas tank and continues to hit big shots this time of year. Wade facilitates the offense and serves as a setup man but also scores when needed. He hit 3 of 4 3s and had 22 points in Game 2.
* Jimmy Butler is wearing red and black instead of green and white. Butler is averaging 26 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists in addition to imposing his will on the defensive end.
“Butler is the best guy on the court by far,” Rynning said. “The Bulls had all kinds of issues, but they came on strong at the end of the season, and for whatever reason their chemistry is super strong now.”
Boston has surrendered home-court advantage, and its coaching edge has not surfaced. Brad Stevens is not beating Fred Hoiberg in the chess match, at least not yet.
“I still think Stevens is the much better coach,” Rynning said, “but I don’t know how much that’s going to play into it.”
All of that said, if the Celtics can win Game 3 — Chicago is a 2-point favorite — the momentum could suddenly shift. These are not Michael Jordan’s Bulls, of course, so it’s not over yet.
“Even if the Celtics get a split in Chicago, they’re still in bad shape,” Westgate sports book manager Jeff Sherman said. “The Bulls look more like a team that is built for the postseason than the regular season.”
Ainge to blame for team’s shortcomings
But if Boston goes down and out, put the blame on general manager Danny Ainge. He set this team up to fail in the playoffs by refusing to make a pivotal move at the trade deadline in February.
It’s a mystery why, but the Bulls were listening to offers for Butler. The Indiana Pacers were waiting for a blockbuster offer for Paul George. Instead, Ainge sat on his pile of draft picks and eyed his big picture of the future, one which might never develop.
The problem with draft picks is they are not always used wisely, and sometimes it’s smarter to deal one or two for a star player in order to win now. Ainge does not qualify as a drafting genius — and there is proof to back up that statement.
With the 13th pick in the 2013 draft, the Celtics acquired center Kelly Olynyk. The 15th pick was Giannis Antetokounmpo, “The Greek Freak.” Ainge passed on the best player to come out of that draft. Antetokounmpo is becoming a superstar for the Milwaukee Bucks. Not to be forgotten, Rudy Gobert was the 27th pick, and the Utah Jazz center is the type of interior force the Celtics lack.
Ainge has had several more questionable first-round picks — including James Young, Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, Jaylen Brown — in the past three years. True, he did piece together the top-seeded team in the East, but the Celtics are coming up short. A team built around a small point guard is not a team built to win the NBA championship.
Cleveland, which is fortunate to be up 2-0 on the Pacers, is breaking down on the defensive end and showing the East was up for grabs this year.
Boston had a shot to overtake the Cavaliers, but Ainge dropped the ball.
Now, he has to hope Thomas can overcome a brutally emotional week and bail him out by winning four of five and stunning the Bulls.
NBA adjusted series prices
(Westgate sports book, posted Wednesday)
Chicago Bulls -270
Boston Celtics plus-230
Indiana Pacers plus-2000
Cleveland Cavaliers -10000
Milwaukee Bucks plus-185
Toronto Raptors -215
Atlanta Hawks plus-280
Washington Wizards -340
Portland Trail Blazers plus-10000
Golden State Warriors -50000
Memphis Grizzlies plus-2500
San Antonio Spurs -15000
Oklahoma City Thunder plus-650
Houston Rockets -1000
Utah Jazz plus-210
Los Angeles Clippers -250