Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4), center Al Horford (42), guard Avery Bradley (0) and forward Jae Crowder (99) need to regroup in a hurry. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports).
The problem with these Celtics through two games is they haven’t met the challenge of the more experienced Chicago Bulls. This is not the job of Brad Stevens.
Stevens can only do so much. True, he fell to 2-10 in his three playoff seasons in Boston, including 2-5 at home. No coach in NBA history has a worst record after at least 10 playoff games. Don Chaney and Bob Weiss were 2-9. Monty Williams stands 2-8. But Stevens can only pull so many players from a bench that consists of rookie and second-year players in Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. His bigs behind Amir Johnson are Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk. Marcus Smart has been spotty at best and Jonas Jerebko has been non-existent.
Al Horford has underachieved in the first two games and doesn’t play like a pure post player even though Stevens admitted that, due to matchups, the Celtics have no choice but to put Horford at the ‘4’ and hope he can defend the low post.
Jae Crowder continues to struggle and Isaiah Thomas seems – very understandably so – carrying the weight of the entire team on his shoulders, while his mind is clearly burdened with the loss of his 22-year-old sister last weekend in a tragic car accident 3,000 miles away.
What exactly is Stevens supposed to say or do with all of that?
“We have to get ready to play great on Friday,” Stevens said after the 111-97 loss to the Bulls.in Game 2 Tuesday night. “That’s what our focus has to be; we don’t have any other choice. And that’s what we said in the locker room, and that’s it. We’ll dissect the film, we’ll go through it, we’ll figure out what we didn’t do well and there’ll be quite a lot, and go from there. But the (Paul) Zipsers, (Nikola) Mirotic, (Bobby) Portis – those guys have had huge impacts on the first two games of this series.
“I mean, I expect it from Wade, right? I mean, I think we all do. Last year I think he hit less than 10 threes during the regular season and then more than that in the first round of the playoffs. Like, this is who he is. And it’s who Rondo’s been throughout his career. I mean, the level that he’s playing at is terrific. And then Butler’s Butler. So, but those other guys are really impacting the series in a big way.”
Stevens coached this team to 53 wins in the regular season. He’s clearly one of the brightest minds in the game. But at some point, the players like Jae Crowder and Al Horford have to pick it up.
“Its self-explanatory. Down 0-2 going into their place we just have to take it one game at a time,” Crowder said after his 16-point minus-12 effort Tuesday. “They came in and took, and we have to do the same. Take it one game at a time and try to get a game three. It’s not ideal for us. Definitely don’t put yourself in a 0-2 hole having home court advantage. But it’s not the end of the world for us. We have the unit to go to Chicago and take care of business.”
Horford had seven points but was a minus-19.
“Jae said it best. I think that’s all we have. Game three is a must win for us,” Horford said. “I think we rushed a little bit at times on offense. We had some carless turnovers that aren’t typical of our team. It gave them some rhythm and it hurt us. As far as getting off to a slow start, I think the way I tried to play is off what the defense gives. For those who really understand the game, they were packing the paint making us find shooters. Tonight I wasn’t able to get into a rhythm offensively. As far as the defense goes I feel we played better at time… we still need to get better as a group.”
Stevens is not on the hot seat. He at a serious personnel matchup disadvantage in this series because Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler are getting support from Robin Lopez and Nikola Mirotic.
“We’ve got a great group of guys in here,” Kelly Olynyk said. “We’ve done a lot of good things in here. We’re not down on each other. We believe in each other 100 percent. We believe in the coaching staff. We have the ability to rattle some (wins) off and hopefully we can.”