The Chicago Bulls look to move one step closer to becoming just the sixth eighth seed in NBA playoff history to win a first-round series when they host the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference matchup Friday night. After sneaking past the Celtics 106-102 in the series opener, the Bulls were dominant in a 14-point triumph in Game 2 on Tuesday, and their confidence is soaring.
“I‘m not surprised because everybody’s so locked in right now” All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler told reporters Tuesday. “Everybody’s putting in extra work right now, watching film, working on their game, and that’s where your confidence always comes from.” Butler has been outstanding, averaging 26 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.5 steals while playing 84 minutes through the first two games. Meanwhile, the Celtics’ All-Star, Isaiah Thomas, continues to grieve over the loss of his sister in a car accident prior to the series and will be returning to the team after spending time with family in Washington, looking to recover from a Game 2 effort in which he scored 20 points on 6-of-15 shooting and missed an uncharacteristic six free throws. “It’s super hard on Isaiah,” coach Brad Stevens told reporters Wednesday. “You can tell. I think that during the games and during walk-throughs and the film, he’s trying his very best to focus.”
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN, CSN New England (Boston), CSN Chicago
ABOUT THE CELTICS: Boston fixed some of its rebounding issues from Game 1 but it allowed the Bulls to shoot 51.1 percent and turned the ball over 16 times in a lackluster effort that had some on the Chicago side questioning the Celtics’ commitment. “It’s got to [motivate us],” Stevens said when asked about his team suddenly playing the part of the underdog. “It has to. That has to happen, and that’s the charge for our team.” There could be some rotation and lineup changes in Game 3, and starting forward Amir Johnson (nine points in 27 minutes in the series) may continue to see a reduced role, while starting guard Avery Bradley needs to find the range after shooting 10-of-28 from the floor in Boston.
ABOUT THE BULLS: Point guard Rajon Rondo was the one who first hinted that Boston looked defeated in Game 2, and he has a pretty good grasp of what it takes to be successful this time of year. The former Celtics star fell a rebound shy of a triple-double in Game 2 (11 points, 14 assists) and chipped in five steals in an electric 40-minute performance, giving him averages of 14.4 points and 9.1 assists in his 96-game playoff career. Dwyane Wade had his best performance since coming back from an elbow injury in Tuesday’s win with 22 points, while rookie forward Paul Zipser broke out with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
1. Stevens is 2-10 in the postseason.
2. The Bulls have won four straight meetings at home.
3. Game 4 is Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET in Chicago.
PREDICTION: Bulls 106, Celtics 103