After Jimmy Butler hit a jumper in the lane over Marcus Smart in the second quarter one Celtics fan in the crowd, who identified himself as Mike S. from Everett, turned to his friend and said, “Why didn’t we trade for Jimmy?” A good question indeed, one that many other Parishioners of the Parquet and possibly Celtics star Isaiah Thomas might be asking themselves right now.
Butler, who scored 30 points in Game 1, had another strong showing in Game 2 with 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists, but the Celtics were undone by his helpers and the lack of assistance they provided Thomas, who scored 20 points on 6-of-15 shooting.
Through two games of their first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls the Celtics don’t look like a team that should have stood pat at the trade deadline or one that can stick around past the first round of the playoffs. If you were a sentient being just arriving to this corner of the universe you would have a difficult time correctly discerning which team is the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and which team is the No. 8 seed. It would be easy to assume the Bulls were the top-seeded team with conference finals aspirations, and the Celtics were the team that sneaked into the playoffs.
The Bulls spanked the Celtics, 111-97, Tuesday night at TD Garden to head back to Chicago with a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series. This was one of the fears with the Celtics getting the No. 1 seed — that they didn’t have the talent around Thomas or the playoff pedigree to back it up. The Celtics are now an alarming 2-10 in a dozen playoff games of the Thomas and Brad Stevens era.
The Celtics’ supporting cast isn’t holding up its end of the bargain. It’s getting outplayed by the Bulls, badly. The Celtics look like a team that needed some augmentation at the NBA trade deadline. Instead, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge decided to keep it all natural and keep his passel of draft picks. Ainge chose not to make a seismic deal for a player such as Butler or a smaller one for a rebounding big man that would have shaken up the roster just a bit. Judging by this series, no move was the wrong move.
Don’t despair, Celtics fans. While your team was getting dominated to go down, 2-0, you can take solace in knowing that the Celtics not only have the potential No. 1 overall draft pick in 2017, they still have three second-round picks — No. 37, No. 53, and No. 56. Bring on the next D-League Rookie of the Year or more Eurostash. Swell. Perhaps one of those seat-filler draft selections would have been better served trying to acquire a veteran player to help this team get out of the first round. I’ll take that over more Jordan Mickeys, R.J. Hunters (a late-first-round pick in 2015), or Ben Bentils.
Maybe the Celtics got lulled into a false sense of regular-season security or maybe they just bought into their undeniable chemistry and camaraderie too much. Either way, hoops hindsight is unkind, especially with Chicago’s role players running circles around the Celtics’ thus far.
It was Bobby Portis who did the damage for the Bulls in Game 1 with 19 points and nine rebounds. In the first quarter Tuesday night, it was Nikola Mirotic, who scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Mirotic finished with 13 points. Robin Lopez had 18 points and eight rebounds. German rookie Paul Zipser added 16 points.
“The Zipsers, Mirotic, Portis, those guys have had huge impacts on the first two games of this series,” said Stevens. “I expect it from [Dwyane] Wade, right. I think we all do . . . this is who he is. It’s who [Rajon] Rondo has been throughout his career. The level he is playing at is terrific, and then Butler is Butler. But those other guys are really impacting the series in a big way.”
The Celtics made Rondo look like he found the hot tub time machine, transforming back into the playoff maestro that endeared him to Boston fans. He finished with 11 points, 14 assists, and 9 rebounds.
While Chicago’s role players are providing added ammunition, the Celtics look like they should have pulled the trigger on a deal to get outside help.
Poor Stevens is playing Russian roulette with his roster or maybe more accurately he is playing another game of chance, the lottery, hoping to hit on the right rotations and combinations.
Stevens used a lineup in the second quarter that had Kelly Olynyk at center with Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Jae Crowder. To start the second half, Stevens dusted off Tyler Zeller.
The Celtics’ vaunted depth has actually been an impediment so far. There are too many permutations of players and not enough reliable production. It leads to searching. This is the time of year you need to know what you’re going to get and what you can expect from your players. The numbers for Smart (13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists) and Olynyk (11 points) aren’t horrible, but their impact is negligible.
“Our bench has had its moments there is no question about it, but we’ve also struggled a bit when we’ve gone there recently,” said Stevens. “We’ve just got to find the right fit for this series, right?
The Bulls would be prevaricating if they said they expected Lopez to play like the genetically engineered spawn of David Robinson and Robert Parish. Usually, water finds its level. It’s high time for Lopez’s high tide to recede.
It’s also time for the Celtics’ complementary pieces to rise to the occasion in the postseason.
Stars can’t do it alone. Wade, who pumped in 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, learned that a long time ago when he was the Man in Miami.
“You need it. Obviously, there are times where your star players have to be star players, but to win a series you’ve got to have guys like Bobby Portis, who is not a star yet, step up,” said Wade. “You need Nikos . . . .You definitely need others to win a championship.”
Ainge isn’t going to get a do-over on the trade deadline, and the Celtics aren’t going to get a do-over on the first two games of this series.
This is what the Celtics have to play with, and they’d better figure it out or Ainge will be compelled by three straight first-round ousters to rip up this roster.