The top-seeded Boston Celtics were unable to orchestrate a comeback as they dropped their second straight game, 111-97, to the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday. The reason they couldn’t fight back, according to Rajon Rondo? The Celtics didn’t have it in them.
Rondo, according to the Boston Globe, repeatedly yelled “They gave up!” to his teammates as the Bulls built a lead as big as 19 to take a 2-0 series lead over his former squad. He blasted his former Celtics team on his old home floor, putting a near-triple-double on their heads with 11 points, nine rebounds, and 14 assists — the benefactor of a poor three-point shooting team that torched Boston for 40 percent shooting from deep.
Rondo joined Michael Jordan as just the second player in Bulls history to record 10 assists and five steals in a playoff game over the past 30 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade split 44 points on a combined 48.5 percent shooting. It was a perfect night for the Bulls, who have swiped home-court advantage from beneath Boston’s feet and flipped the series on its head.
Celtics guard Avery Bradley heard Rondo yelling and conceded the ex-Boston floor general was right.
“I looked around and a few times in the game guys were putting their heads down, I think getting down on themselves,” Bradley said, according to the Globe. “But as a team we have to stay together. The other team is looking at that. They’re using that as motivation for themselves.”
Teams that take a 2-0 series lead in the playoffs go on to win that series 95.3 percent of the time, according to WhoWins, but the leading team has a 38-59 record in Game 3. If the Celtics want to come back in this series, they’ll have to start there, on the road in front of a raucous Bulls crowd.
The Celtics are the No. 1 seed for a reason. Isaiah Thomas is one of the best scoring point guards in the league. Al Horford has helped revamp the Celtics on both ends of the floor, and Brad Stevens is one of the brightest young coaching minds the NBA has to offer.
There’s an argument to be made for Boston to rattle off at least one win in the series — to be swept would be downright despicable. It’ll take some heart if the Celtics want to turn this around. It’s been done before, and it can happen again.
But one thing the Celtics absolutely can’t do is give up, as Rondo suggests they did.