The Boston Celtics’ three straight wins against the Chicago Bulls to take a commanding lead in their first round series don’t invalidate the problems we saw when they dropped Games 1 and 2. Boston still overachieved in the regular season, setting up unrealistically high expectations and pushing them into being the most unlikely No. 1 seed in years.
But the Celtics, on Wednesday, finally started looking like a team we recognized again. It wasn’t just Isaiah Thomas having to score or create on offense or nothing would happen; in fact, lineups with him off the floor survived surprisingly well. The game was still close, with the Bulls taking leads several times in the second half, but Boston eventually pulled away decisively in the end for a 108-97 victory.
To go with Thomas’s 24 points came Avery Bradley’s best game yet — 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting — and Marcus Smart providing a solid eight points and eight assists off the bench. Al Horford damn near had a triple-double, with 21 points, seven rebounds, and nine assists, and even Kelly Olynyk was solid.
In short: the Celtics were a team again, all contributing and working off each other, not just isolated instances of individuals playing well. It’s a bit cliched, but Boston itself is a cliche, led by a head coach from a state where most basketball cliches come from. Thomas is their star, and everybody else in Boston falls in line by playing consistent, smart basketball. Brad Stevens has convinced them it will work, and it certainly has.
Without Rajon Rondo’s injury, you have to wonder if the Celtics would have recovered as convincingly as they did. Their last two wins, though by a combined 20 points, were closer than the score might indicate, and Rondo was enormous for Chicago when Boston dropped the first two matchups of this series. Again, those moments are still cause for concern — you can’t lose twice at home to a team that was as dysfunctional as the Bulls for most the year and shrug it off. They can’t prove anything in this series, and winning Game 6 won’t erase the way this series began. That can only come later on.
But given the choice of recovering, or slouching into yet another first round exit, the option was clear. Boston did that by turning back into the team we came to see all regular season. Regardless of what the future holds, it was a welcomed return.