When news about Isaiah Thomas’ sister trickled out on Saturday, the entire NBA community rallied around the Celtics’ All-Star guard in a way that any of us would want to be supported in the face of a similar tragedy in our own lives. Countless players, media, coaches, execs and fans showed their love for Thomas and his family all Easter Weekend leading up to the team’s Game 1 matchup against the Chicago Bulls in Boston.
If this were a live-action Disney sports flick, Thomas’ Celtics teammates would have rallied behind him in the face of tragedy to spur the win, but real life isn’t a Disney film. Thomas looked utterly depleted emotionally from the moment he stepped onto the court, but that didn’t stop him from putting on an inspired performance despite his exhaustion.
Thomas poured in 33 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds in defeat, which would have been par for the course this season on a normal night. Knowing what he had gone through in the preceding 36 hours, however, made the performance all the more impressive.
Looking ahead to Game 2 on Tuesday, there is every expectation that Thomas will be equally impressive, though there’s no telling how much he’ll be affected by his sister’s funeral services, slated to take place in the state of Washington sometime later in the week. He proved in Game 1 that he’s willing to play through the emotion, but an actual service and the cross-country travel that comes with it is a unique and unfortunate sort of interference working against proper preparation for a playoff game.
Most people wouldn’t have the strength to go to work in the face of something similar. Some would, though, in search of distraction and catharsis. How Thomas responds in Game 2—and so far there has been no indication that he’ll miss that game, especially down 0-1 in the series—will have a lot to do with where things end up headed back to Chicago for Game 3.
Whatever happens with Thomas, the Celtics are going to have to clean up the glass in Game 2. As noted in the Game 1 preview, the Bulls have been among the league’s best rebounding teams, even after the Taj Gibson trade, while the Celtics have been among the worst rebounding teams in the league. Chicago outrebounded the Celtics 53-36 in Game 1, and 20 of those boards were on the offensive glass. Any coach in the world will tell players that offensive rebounds and second chance points will kill any team, and they killed Boston in Game 1. If they don’t get bodies on Robin Lopez and Bobby Portis the next time out, they could very well be facing the same result.
Portis, by the way, was excellent in his playoff debut off the bench, scoring 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting in the game. He didn’t miss a shot in the second half, and he and Jimmy Butler combined for 35 points in the Bulls’ last two quarters. Butler was, unsurprisingly, Chicago’s savior, scoring 30 points overall and a career-high 15 in the fourth quarter. He was every bit as good as Thomas in this game, despite a couple of out-of-character free throw misses in the final period.
Boston’s probably not going to have much luck slowing down Butler considering how driven he’s been over the course of the last month, but they should be able to find answers for Lopez, who got off to a blazing start in Game 1, and Portis.
In short, the Celtics need to keep the Bulls off the glass and shut down the role guys in Game 2, while the Bulls need to continue taking advantage of their size advantage and hopefully get more efficient games out of Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Nikola Mirotic, none of whom had a great Game 1. Mirotic, especially, has shown over the last quarter of the regular season that he’s better than the version of himself we saw on Sunday.
This was only the 12th time that an 8-seed beat a 1-seed in a Game 1, and eight of those other 11 times, the 1-seed won the series anyway. This, however, doesn’t feel like a typical 1-8 matchup, does it?
Who Wins Game 2?
Expect a tighter Game 2 for Boston as they remove themselves a little from the devastation of this weekend. They may not be a world-beater, but they’re too good to lose the first two games of this series at home. Assuming Thomas plays, the Celtics should take Game 2. If he misses the game, though, the Bulls are heading back to Chicago with a 2-0 lead.
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