Status of the Celtics UP 3-2
Remember when I said Celtics in 6? Your boy is out here looking like a genius! Ok, I should probably also point out that I didn't foresee Rondo breaking his thumb in Game 2, nor did I think something so traumatic would happen to our star player a day before the playoffs start. I didn't expect Robin Lopez to play like Wilt Chamberlain, and I didn't expect the road team to win the first 4 games of the series. So basically now that I think about it, I pretty much didn't get anything right. But the fact that my original prediction is not only still alive but also likely is crazy considering how this series started. We'll never know how things would have shaken out if IT never lost his sister or if Rondo never got hurt. I 100% believe that the overall vibe of the team in the locker room is the reason we dropped those first two games though, despite Rondo's dominance. And who knew a subtle change like inserting Gerald Green into the starting lineup would make such a big difference.
This series really just shows why I'm not an NBA coach. After getting killed on the glass in the first two games, I called for Tyler Zeller to get more clock as opposed to Amir Johnson who hadn't been doing shit to that point. I was right about benching Amir, but who would have thought us going smaller would have had a positive impact on our rebounding? That move flipped the series on its back and made Brad Stevens look like a genius, but if you think about it it really makes sense. Lopez was able to dominate so much because he was always under the basket, not because of how small we are. Inserting Tyler Zeller might have slightly improved the rebounding, but Lopez was still going to be in a position to excel. With Gerald Green in the lineup, Lopez had to slide over and guard Al Horford who was now the Center and needs to be respected from 3 point range. Green also provided a much needed offensive boost alongside IT because Amir was literally giving us nothing.
Boston's success can be attributed to two things: IT/Horford pick and rolls and Stevens' ability to hide IT on defense. When it comes to the IT/Horford pick and rolls, this again has everything to do with Lopez's ability (or lack thereof) to guard either one of them. If Isaiah gets the switch, there's no way Lopez has the foot speed to be able to keep up with him going to the rack. Or if he sags off anticipating the drive, Thomas just pulls up from 3. If they don't switch, Lopez is in scramble mode trying to get back to Horford who is also capable of putting the ball on the floor or pulling up for 3. It's just a bad matchup for Chicago which has resulted in Lopez getting fewer minutes. That has been Boston's bread and butter in the 4th quarter to get their two best players rolling.
As far as hiding IT on defense is concerned, it's clearly a team effort. What you'll see almost every time down the floor (and rightfully so) is either Butler or Wade handling the ball and calling whoever is being guarded by IT for a pick and roll. The Celtics will do 1 of 2 things at that point: switch to a quasi-zone where the closest Celtic guard to the ball will switch and take IT's spot before the pick even comes, OR they will allow the switch and overload to Isaiah's side for a ton of help defense. This method won't work on a team with a lot of shooters, but against the Bulls it's the perfect defense. In any other situation the team would just quickly swing the ball or throw a skip pass to whoever is on the weak side corner and hit a 3.
There have been other factors that have led to the Celtics' success like much improved bench play, a greater focus on rebounding from the guards, and just overall better shooting. But I don't think there was any greater factor that somewhat returning to normality for IT. That just loosened the rest of the team up and you could tell. It's refreshing hearing the usual "mothafucka!" and "bitch ass niggas!" I've been hearing from him all season long. And if you don't believe me, listen closely tonight and you will learn those are his two favorite insults. But this game tonight will come down to whether this young Celtics team has it in them to close out a team on the road. Actually, they've never closed out a team PERIOD. But with Rondo out, I'll stick with my original prediction of Celtics in 6. But don't be surprised if old man Wade has some tricks up his sleeve.