After losing Game 1 on an emotional night in Boston, I figured the Celtics would come out fast in Tuesday’s Game 2. That happened as Boston jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead, but the Bulls quickly turned things around and then ran away from the Celtics in the second half to earn a 111-97 victory to take a stunning 2-0 series lead heading to Chicago.
After the Bulls’ poor start, their fortunes changed because of Rajon Rondo.
Rondo’s aggressiveness on both ends of the court helped the Bulls find themselves, as he forced turnovers, pushed pace and finished on drives to the bucket. It was probably the most engaged I’ve seen him in a Bulls uniform. #PlayoffRondo, indeed.
Rondo finished with 11 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds and five steals. The 14 assists tied a Bulls playoff franchise record, and then there’s this:
Rajon Rondo is the 2nd Bulls player with 10 assists and 5 steals in a playoff game over the last 30 seasons, joining Michael Jordan. pic.twitter.com/09H59dvKZW— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 19, 2017
The Bulls went from down 7-0 to up 20-11, and they never trailed the rest of the game. There were several moments where they looked like they were going to fall apart and allow the Celtics to take control, but the Bulls had an answer for every single Celtics run.
The Bulls led by eight points at halftime, and it was Robin Lopez who held things together at the start of the second half when it looked like the offense was about to go off the rails. Lopez acted as the safety valve on several possessions with his mid-range prowess, which was part of another monster game for RoLo as he continues to bash the Celtics’ soft frontcourt.
Lopez finished with 18 points and eight boards, with five more coming on the offensive end. Al Horford and Amir Johnson have had all sorts of trouble with Lopez down low, and Brad Stevens even went with Tyler Zeller over Johnson to start the second half because Johnson was so ineffective.
Zeller did provide a little bit of a spark, and the Bulls’ lead got down to just one early in the third quarter. But much like Game 1, Jimmy Butler woke up in the second half after a slow start offensively. After the Celtics trimmed it to 60-59, Butler scored or assisted on 13 of the Bulls’ next 15 points as the lead went back out to 10 and then extended to 14 late in the frame.
There was a bit of weirdness at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth quarter when Fred Hoiberg inserted Michael Carter-Williams over a struggling Jerian Grant. MCW banked a terrible jumper and had several downright putrid decisions driving the ball, leading to Celtics points the other way.
The Bulls’ lead was nine when Rondo and Dwyane Wade reentered, and that’s when D-Wade sealed the deal. Wade did basically nothing for the first two and a half quarters, but he came alive down the stretch to help turn the game into a blowout. Wade finished with 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting, with 16 of those coming after halftime and 11 in the fourth quarter.
13 of Butler’s 22 points came after the break as he had a strong overall game. He may have botched a pair of layups and had a few jumpers rim out early, but he still finished with those 22 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, four steals and two blocks on an okay 8-of-19 from the field.
And woooooo boy those two blocks. If you weren’t aware, Isaiah Thomas is very short, and Jimmy Butler made him look VERY short on the two blocks. Butler denied Thomas on two different drives to the rim, including this vicious pack:
Butler punctuated his game by ripping rookie Jaylen Brown late in the fourth quarter. Something tells me trading Jimmy for Jaylen straight up wouldn’t be a great idea.
As for IT, the Bulls did an outstanding job holding him in check. Thomas had 20 points on 6-of-15 shooting with five turnovers, and he also uncharacteristically missed a career-high six free throws. You still do have to wonder about his mindset following the tragic death of his sister, but the Bulls deserve a ton of credit for making it really tough on him.
In addition to their solid defense, the Bulls’ offense in general was real good, outside of a few ugly stretches. They shot 51.1 percent overall and 10-of-25 from 3. And while the teams both finished with 11 offensive rebounds, the Bulls had 10 of those in the first half to help make up for some poor early 3-point shooting.
All five starters scored in double figures, with Nikola Mirotic also chipping in 13 points after his awful Game 1. Mirotic scored 10 of those early and struggled as the game went on, although he did hit a big triple in the second half. And not to be forgotten, Paul Zipser was huge off the bench with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting. He drilled two treys and had several aggressive drives and finishes.
Simply put, this was an outstanding team victory. There were so many good contributions from all over the floor, and it was great to see them answer every challenge instead of folding. Rondo is unrecognizable from the first half of the season, and we’re seeing the Bulls’ young players take turns stepping up (Portis in Game 1 and Zipser in Game 2).
And Jimmy Butler continues to show why he’s the best player in this series. As good as IT is as a scorer, Butler is the complete package and continues to make key plays on both ends of the floor. He hasn’t even been at his best and is still making a huge impact.
I still expected the Celtics to take this series after Game 1. I’m certainly not confident in that anymore. The Bulls are a bad matchup for the Celtics and appear to have them figured out. The Bulls have the best player in the series. There’s nothing guaranteed here because we’ve seen the Bulls go in the tank too many times this season, but they’re in prime position to take this series.
Game 3 is in Chicago on Friday, and I’d like to leave you with this: