CHICAGO – The Boston Celtics were at a crossroads just two games into their first-round series against Chicago.
Down 2-0, something had to change – and change fast – if they were going to avoid being remembered as one of the worst number one seeds in NBA history.
“We didn’t have a meeting, but it was a reality check for us,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley who talked about how the team was “humbled after losing two games.”
They had a choice.
They could feel sorry for themselves and continue to struggle, or as Bradley put it, “come here (Chicago) and make history.”
The Celtics did just that, becoming the first number one seed in the best-of-seven series era to lose the first two games at home, and respond by winning the next four which includes a 105-83 Game 6 win to eliminate the Bulls.
Boston’s blowout victory was fueled in large part by a furious third quarter in which they dominated the Bulls in every way imaginable, outscoring Chicago 34-16 in the quarter which gave them a decisive 88-59 lead going into the fourth.
The 29-point lead after three quarters was a historical moment. It now stands as the largest lead the Celtics have had in a road playoff game after three quarters of play.
Boston moves on to the Conference semi-finals where they will face the Washington Wizards with Game 1 expected to be at the TD Garden on Sunday.
Fourth-year coach Brad Stevens advances past the first round of the playoffs for the first time, while the Celtics franchise is in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
And in the final game of the series, the Celtics’ depth proved to be just too much for the injury-riddled Bulls to overcome.
Former Celtic Rajon Rondo, who led the Bulls to wins in Games 1 and 2, suffered a fractured right thumb injury in Game 2 and was unable to return in the series.
And while Jimmy Butler had a strong 23-point performance in Game 6, he was hampered to some extent by sore knees which more than anything, seemed to take something away from his explosiveness both as a scorer and to defend at a high level.
The player benefiting most from Butler’s less-than-ideal status health-wise, was Avery Bradley.
After scoring a playoff career-high 24 points in Boston’s Game 5 win, he got off to a fast start in Game 6 with nine of his 23 points scored in the first quarter.
Bradley’s scoring, primarily from 3-point range, was indicative of how the game began for the Celtics.
They opened with a 9-4 run, with all nine points coming from 3-point range.
Chicago got a couple shots to go down, but Boston went on an 8-2 spurt that gave them their first double-digit lead 21-11, after back-to-back dunks by Gerald Green and Al Horford, respectively.
Boston’s control remained strong as the first quarter ended with the Celtics ahead 30-23.
And the Celtics’ second unit picked up where the starters left off by scoring eight of the first 10 points of the second quarter to lead 38-25.
Boston’s second unit helped push the Celtics’ lead to as many as 17 points in the second before the Bulls began to chip away at it.
A lay-up by Chicago’s Paul Zipser capped off an 8-0 run by the Bulls that cut Boston’s lead to 42-33 with 5:50 to play in the first half.
Boston continued to play with in the double-digit neighborhood before closing the quarter by scoring nine of the last 13 points to lead by 13 at the half.