CHICAGO – If the Celtics continue to struggle and ultimately lose their first-round playoff series to Chicago, Boston would then have the dubious distinction of being the rare top seed that doesn’t get out of the first round.
That’ll only intensify the critics of Danny Ainge who thought he should have addressed the team’s biggest weakness – rebounding – by adding a frontcourt player at the trade deadline.
And while coach Brad Stevens has done well in his three-plus seasons in Boston, bowing out in the first round as the top seed will certainly raise questions about whether he is as good as advertised.
Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, said he’s okay with those being the two dominant storylines.
“It’s fair, but I don’t agree with them,” Ainge said on his weekly call-in to 98.5 the Sports Hub’s "Toucher & Rich" show. “But I haven’t written this series off yet, either.”
While Ainge acknowledges that the Celtics have not played their best basketball in this series, he doesn’t believe Stevens’ coaching is the problem, despite the fourth-year coach having a 2-10 postseason record.
“There’s reasons for that,” Ainge said. “You can go down the list.”
While this is the third season in a row that Stevens has led the Celtics to the postseason, it’s the first postseason in which Boston has been the higher seed.
“The coaching isn’t the issue,” Ainge said. “I think he’s a fantastic coach.”
This postseason run began with some unusual, heartbreaking circumstances as well.
Early Saturday morning, Chyna J. Thomas, the 22-year-old sister of Celtics All-Star Isaiah Thomas, was killed in a one-car accident in Federal Way, Washington.
Understandably, her death was a huge emotional blow to Thomas, as well as his teammates. Although Thomas has been able to play well through the pain in the first two games of this series, the Celtics as a team have struggled to the point where they are now down 2-0 to the Bulls with the series shifting to Chicago for Games 3 and 4 at the United Center on Friday and Sunday.
Thomas left for Tacoma, Washington to be with his family after the 111-97 Game 2 loss on Tuesday, and is expected to be with the team in Chicago for practice later this afternoon.
The biggest problems for the Celtics in this series has been the Chicago bigs; specifically, Robin Lopez.
His dominance of this series has really been the trigger-point for the success the Bulls have had this postseason.
In the first two games, he has averaged 16.0 points and 9.5 rebounds while shooting 67 percent (14-for-21) from the field – all above his season average.
When asked about whether it’s fair that the team be criticized for not getting a rebounder at the trade deadline, Ainge said he “definitely thinks those are fair criticisms.”
He added, “I don’t agree but it’s fair to have that opinion.”
The Bulls came into the playoffs fourth this season in rebounding percentage while the Celtics were just 27th.
In the first two games, it has been decisively lopsided in Chicago’s favor as the Bulls have out-rebounded Boston, 96-74.
“There’s a lot of factors,” Ainge said. “That’s a conversation to have when it’s over, but I’d like to continue the conversation on how the Celtics are going to come back in this series.”
How’s that gonna happen Danny?
“Listen, you have to give them credit,” Ainge said. “They’ve answered every run we’ve had; we haven’t been dominated. Every time we’d make a run, they made shots. Bobby Portis made all his shots in Game 1, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler and [Paul] Zipser, Lopez, they all made shots. We haven’t caught that fire yet. We can make shots too. And they can miss some shots.
Ainge added, “We need to play our best basketball. We need to play like the basketball we were playing in the middle of March. And I still think we have that in us.”