What's going on with the Celtics? After last night's loss, the Celtics have became just the 2nd one seed in NBA history to go down 2-0 to an eight seed, and the only one to do it in a seven game series. It’s easy to see the Celtics are playing badly, but looking at the game 2 stats makes it all the more horrifying. Some of these are fixable and some are problems that go much deeper. If they can’t fix at least two of these problems, they will not win the series. Losing in one or two of these categories is fine, but losing all of them together gives you no chance.
The Celtics are in turnover hell right now. At one point in game 2 the Celtics were losing the turnover battle to Chicago 12-6. Having two times the amount of turnovers that your opponent has is a problem. The turnover battle ended at 16-12, and the steals battle ended at 12-6 both in favor of Chicago. The Celtics had 16 turnovers in that game as well. This shouldn’t be the case. During the regular season the Celtics ranked better than the Bulls in both turnovers per game (13.3) and turnovers forced per game, so there’s no excuse to lose the turnover battle like they did.
This isn’t just one player either. If we exclude James Young who only played 3 minutes near the end of the game, 9 out of the 10 Celtics who played had at least one turnover. The only one who didn’t have one was Terry Rozier (only 5 Bulls turned the ball over). The Celtics can’t keep up the sloppy offense and expect to win. If they are going to get beat on the boards like it has become apparent all season that they will, then they will have to win the turnover battle. At that point, you’re giving the Bulls way too many extra possessions.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Celtics are a bad rebounding team. Terrible, in fact. The Celtics gave up the 5th most offensive rebounds per game this season and ranked 25th in rebounds per game. They also ranked 27th in rebound rate which tracks the percentage of a game's total rebounds your team got. No other playoff team ranked lower. The Bulls ranked 3rd in that category. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that they are getting ripped apart on the glass. However, it is a surprise that the rebounding was actually a tie in game 2. Both teams had 49 rebounds. Which makes it all the more disappointing that the Celtics got blown out.
Unlike some of the other problems the Celtics are dealing with in this series, rebounding has been a problem all season for the Celtics. There isn’t an easy fix for the rebounding at this point. The Bulls will almost certainly out rebound the Celtics in this series. The Celtics will need to do everything they can to bridge the gap, but it doesn’t look like they will be able to stop the Bulls from rebounding. Which means they need to win all of these other battles.
So much has been made of the fact that the Celtics can’t score without Isaiah and that they don’t have another player that can create his own shot, and that has become more evident during these last 2 games. At times it even appears that some players do not want to shoot because they don’t want to miss. In game 1 it was the bench that got outscored 35-22 and in game 2 it was the starters that got outscored 86-69. Those discrepancies are too big to expect the other unit to make up for. You can’t expect to win a game getting outscored by that. It’s just math.
That isn’t the only area where the Celtics have been unable to keep up. So far this series, the Celtics are shooting 63.8 percent from the free throw line, which is down nearly 17 percent from one they shot in the regular season. The last scoring problem for the Celtics is so embarrassing, it deserves it’s own category.
4. Three-Point Shooting
The Chicago Bulls can’t shoot. It’s been a staple of the team all season. Their starting backcourt of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo is probably the worst perimeter shooting combo that NBA minds could think up for a starting backcourt. During the regular season they ranked 23rd in the league in three point percentage, 9 spots below the Celtics. This same Chicago Bulls team shot better than the Celtics from three in game 2. It wasn’t just 1 or 2 percentage points either, the Bulls shot 10% better than the Celtics from outside in game 2. It would be like if the Celtics were out rebounding them. It’s absurd. The Celtics whole offense revolves around spacing the floor. If they are going to lose that battle they sure as hell aren’t going to win the series. It’s embarrassing that this is an actual concern for the Celtics.
If the Celtics are going to get out rebounded that’s acceptable, but getting out shot from three and the free throw line, and losing the turnover battle on top of getting out rebounded is going to lose them the series. The possessions the Celtics get are all the more precious when the Bulls are getting a second chance off every other miss. They need to protect the ball and shoot better to win 4 of the next 5 games and if they don’t, we will be in for one hell of an offseason. The Celtics would get absolutely ripped apart if they go onto lose this series after getting the #1 seed in the east. Getting the #1 seed in the east should be a sign that you are a title contender, and so far in the playoffs the Celtics don’t look ready to play. On top of all that, if you’re one of the people that that wants Jimmy Butler this offseason, do you really think the Bulls are trading him if they beat the Celtics in round 1?