Game 5 Preview: Chicago Bulls vs. Boston Celtics

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And so concludes the legend of the TNT Bulls. Even Cal Ripken’s streak had to end sometime.

Before Sunday’s postseason loss to the Boston Celtics, Chicago hadn’t lost a home game that was broadcast on TNT since early 2013. Even the first two games of this series were TNT wins, albeit on the road, but it was this one that snapped one of sports’ most epic, oddest streaks.

Game 4 wasn’t about some pointless, quirky streak, however. It was about the Boston Celtics establishing that Game 3’s win wasn’t a fluke. This team has gotten its confidence back, while the Bulls have reverted to the versions of themselves that sucked the life out of the 2016-17 regular season.

All is as it was, and still nobody has won a home game. It’s been a weird series.

Gerald Green started for the Boston Celtics for the second game in a row, and for the second game in a row the strategy was wildly effective, with Green scoring a playoff career-high 18 points. Isaiah Thomas, meanwhile, looked as fluid and comfortable as he has all season, and that includes his emotional 33-point Game 1 outburst. Throughout Game 4 he did that thing where he’s tiny but nobody can block his layups anyway. Once again, he poured in 33 points, but a lot of those came immediately after the Bulls raged back into the game. He absolutely slayed Chicago in Game 4.

Even better for Boston is that they only were outrebounded by Chicago 44-41, basically negating what has to date been their lone kryptonite in this series.

Jimmy Butler got back on track for the Bulls, scoring 33 points of his own and getting to the free-throw line 23 time after shooting exactly zero foul shots in Game 3, but he was literally the only effective Bulls player in this game. Chicago missed a ton of wide-open three-pointers at key moments and still reverted to a lot of isolation plays that just didn’t amount to much.

It’s not going to stop being ugly, either. Expect Game 5 to feature a lot of the same disjointed offense from Chicago, with Boston spreading the floor and getting the better of the small-ball game.

The biggest storyline heading into Game 5 will be whether or not Rajon Rondo gets his cast off early and plays despite the pain in his thumb. He once finished a game with a dislocated elbow, one arm dangling at his side, and he also played 12 minutes in another game with a torn ACL. Considering how dramatically this series has changed since his departure, he has to understand how valuable he is — interrupting passing lanes, predicting Boston’s plays and getting Chicago defenders to where they need to be to negate the Celtics’ general flow.

It’s the thumb on his shooting hand that is injured, but that might not stop him. This story won’t go away until he either suits up or he doesn’t. If he does, this series gets really interesting all over again.

Who Wins Game 5?

If Rondo doesn’t play, Chicago will end up in their first hole of the series. Somebody’s got to win a home game eventually, and with all the momentum and all the current strategic advantages, it seems like as good of a time as any for Boston to take the first home victory of the series.

Isaiah Thomas has looked a little more like himself every game this series, and Rondo probably isn’t coming back for Game 5, no matter how much Bulls fans may want him to. He’ll be in uniform for any sort of elimination game, though, which looks like it will be Game 6 in Chicago next Friday.