Eastern Conference First Round
No. 8 Chicago at No. 1 Boston (TNT, 6:30 p.m. ET)
2016-17 Regular Season (Tied 2-2)
Oct. 27 Celtics at Bulls (-1) 105-99 (Under 209)
Nov. 2 Bulls at Celtics (-3) 107-100 (Under 207.5)
Feb. 16 Celtics at Bulls (+1) 104-103 (Under 214)
Mar. 12 Bulls at Celtics (-7.5) 100-80 (Under 208)
2016-17 Postseason (Bulls 2-1)
Apr. 16 Bulls (+7.5) at Celtics 106-102 (Over 207)
Apr. 18 Bulls (+7) at Celtics 111-97 (Over 206.5)
Apr. 21 Celtics (-2.5) at Bulls 104-87 (Under 206)
**Game 5 will take place from Boston’s TD Garden on Wednesday.
The Bulls announced point guard Rajon Rondo fractured his thumb in Game 2 on Friday morning, ruling him out until he’s re-evaluated in 7-to-10 days. Unless there’s a Game 7 in this series, a strong possibility given the remaining series layout, he’s played his last game against the Celtics this season.
It now remains to be seen whether Chicago can survive without his pace, energy and defense. Early returns weren’t promising. Rondo averaged nearly a triple-double (11.5/8.5/10.0) in helping the Bulls build a 2-0 lead in Boston, turning back the clock to the days where he helped drive veteran teammates Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to hang the most recent banner the storied Celtics have on display at TD Garden.
Jerian Grant started and Michael Carter-Williams played the bulk of the minutes in Rondo’s before Cam Payne closed out garbage time. Payne, who played four minutes, outscored Carter-Williams with his three points. MCW and Grant shot a combined 3-for-10 from the field and had more turnovers (7) than assists (3). Both were liabilities.
Wade ended up playing a lot of point and shot 6-for-18, often forcing up shots when his options dried up. He led Chicago with 18 points and was probably its most effective starter, which says a lot about how awful the Bulls were. Butler never found a rhythm without Rondo to help him get going and shot 7-for-21 from the field, finishing a team-worst minus-27 in his 39 minutes of action. He failed to get to the free-throw line after shooting 18 over the first two games. Considering this season’s breakthrough, it was a disappointing effort. Without Rondo, it was on him to help set the tone early and make the game easier for others, especially at home. There isn’t time to revamp a game plan, so going up 3-1 hinges on turning things around with better energy and execution. At least Butler is pointing fingers at the right guy.
“I don’t feel I changed the game defensively either,” Butler told reporters after Saturday’s practice. “I don’t think I did too much of anything. It’s alright, we go out ot and play the way we’re supposed to , I play the way I’m supposed to, and then back to the Bulls have a chance.”
Boston played its best game of the series after surrendering an average of 108.5 points per game in the two losses. Brad Stevens felt his team played like he wanted them to, wounded and desperate. They came out with the intensity required from a team that couldn’t afford a loss and helped the cause by shooting the lights out at United Center, connecting on 17-of-37 3-pointers.
Rebounding and turnovers were a major point of emphasis for Boston prior to Game 3 and things turned out around as far as miscues go. They committed just 12 turnovers while forcing 17 from the Bulls, 11 of which came on steals. On the boards, however, the Celtics were victimized again, outrebounded 52-37, which brings the count for the series to 148-111. Even with Robin Lopez playing his worst game, Chicago still created extra chances on the offensive glass.
Isaiah Thomas joined the Celtics in Chicago after flying across the country to be with family and attend his sister Chyna’s funeral in Tacoma. He and backcourt mate Avery Bradley were each at minus-20 or lower in Game 2 after actually being on the plus side in the series opener, so their ability to bounce back with 31 points and 16 assists were vital to getting Stevens his first road playoff win as Celtics head coach. Stevens adjusted his starting lineup by putting another shooter out there with Gerald Green replacing Amir Johnson, who got just six minutes. Second-year guard Terry Rozier, another perimeter threat who has been an asset at both ends, has become an x-factor in the series, while rookie lottery pick Jaylen Brown has fallen out of the rotation altogether.
Can Thomas hold up and provide another solid game at the end of what’s been an emotionally taxing eight-day span since finding out his younger sister had died in one-car accident at practice last Saturday afternoon? After a record-setting regular season for the Celtics, Thomas has averaged 23.0 points and shot 45 percent from the field in this series despite his personal tragedy. After 11 turnovers in Boston over the first two games, he had just two miscues and nine assists, his largest output in that category since late January. Al Horford had his best game of the series, finally getting the better of Lopez and finishing with 18 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals while going 2-for-3 from 3-point range. If he’s settled in and continues to flourish, Chicago is in trouble.
The Bulls opened as 1.5-point favorite against the Celtics on Friday before news that Rondo was sidelined made the rounds. Boston ended up favored on the road and covered easily in what became the lowest-scoring game of the series. It opened as a 2.5-point road favorite and has been favored nine times on the road since the All-Star break, going 4-5 SU/5-4 ATS. Chicago won its last two-regular season home games by a combined 86 points. It won six of eight at United Center, a run that includes the Jazz, Hawks and Cavs as victims. The Bulls also beat Golden State there to open March and need to come through here to give themselves three shots to close out a series that has become even more challenging as they aim to become the sixth No. 8 seed in league history to drop a No. 1.
Western Conference First Round
No. 4 L.A. Clippers at No. 5 Utah (TNT, 9:00 p.m. ET)
2016-17 Regular Season (L.A. won 3-1)
Oct. 30 Jazz at Clippers (-7.5) 88-75 (Under 190)
Feb. 13 Clippers at Jazz (-8) 88-72 (Under 207)
Mar. 13 Clippers at Jazz (-2) 114-108 (Over 202.5)
Mar. 25 Jazz at Clippers (-5) 108-95 (2OT) (Over 200)
2016-17 Postseason (Clippers 2-1)
Apr. 15 Jazz (+6) at Clippers 97-95 (Under 197.5)
Apr. 18 Jazz at Clippers (-9) 99-91 (Under 200)
Apr. 21 Clippers (-1.5) at Jazz 111-106 (Over 197.5)
**Game 5 will take place from L.A.’s Staples Center on Tuesday.
The Clippers survived the loss of Blake Griffin in nearly identical fashion to how Utah managed to persevere after Rudy Gobert was lost to a knee injury 17 seconds into Game 1. Griffin’s toe injury was suffered in the second quarter and he tried to play through it until he couldn’t, so L.A. has no choice but to cling to the hope that they can get through this series without their star power forward. Never mind the Warriors. First things first, especially since getting past the Jazz will be a chore.
Griffin is done for the remainder of the postseason, and if nothing else, he’s given the Clippers plenty of opportunities to gain experience playing without him. He’s missed 70 of 173 possible games including the postseason since 2015-16 began. Griffin averaged 25 points and six boards over the first two games and was headed to similar production before bowing out of Game 3, leaving with 3:17 left before halftime.
L.A. won the second half 61-48 as Chris Paul took the game over and everyone else simply played their roles in a 111-106 comeback win. They went on a 15-0 run to put away the Jazz, riding Paul’s 34 points, the most he’s scored since dropping 40 on Feb. 26, 2016. Luc Mbah a Moute responded well to getting more touches, while Marreese Speights wound up a team-best plus-12. Those are the two guys who most played Griffin’s role, while Paul Pierce logged 21 minutes, his longest stretch on the floor since Nov. 29 and second-longest on the season. Despite not scoring and taking only one shot, he was out there for key stretches.
The Clippers biggest problem in this series may not be that Griffin is out, but rather, that Gobert may soon be in. The French center with the 7-foot-7 wingspan appears on the verge of getting back, even though he’s considered doubtful for Sunday. Because of how vital this game is to the Jazz, it wouldn’t be too surprising if he gets treatment all afternoon and sees how he feels closer to tip-off.
If Gobert remains out, look for the Jazz to go small without Griffin to worry about, likely utilizing Boris Diaw for long stretches to keep from overextending Derrick Favors. The former No. 3 overall pick scored just two points in 38 minutes on Friday night and will be playing a game on a single day’s rest for just the second time since early March. He looks spent. Without Gobert available and with Favors limping around, the Jazz have surrendered 49.3 points in the paint and have been outrebounded by DeAndre Jordan and friends. Utah hasn’t been beaten at home in consecutive games since Feb. 13, when these Clippers followed Boston’s act in pulling an upset, winning 88-72. The stakes are obviously higher now.
“You don’t want to go down 3-1 going back to their place,” said Jazz point guard George Hill, who will be tasked with finding a way to slow down Paul. “They have been playing well at home. Yes, it’s a must-win situation for us.”
Utah saw All-Star forward Gordon Hayward get his team off to a great start with a 21-point first-quarter outburst in Game 3, ultimately scoring a career-high 40 points. He struggled down the stretch, making only one fourth-quarter bucket, so protecting homecourt falls on his shoulders more than anyone else’s. Since Griffin is such a tough physical matchup, his absence means the Jazz can get away with playing multiple wings like Joe Johnson, Rodney Hood and Joe Ingles alongside Hill, Hayward and whoever they have working at center.
Quin Snyder has had a great season pushing the right buttons in leading his team to a Northwest title, making him part of the Coach of the Year conversation. He’s going to be counted on to continue adjusting on the fly and now is on more of an even playing field with more experienced counterpart Doc Rivers, who is now also forced to become innovative with his own personnel.
The under has prevailed in five of the last seven Jazz games, but the teams combined for 217 points in Game 3 and teamed for 222 in their final regular-season in Salt Lake City.