A few caveats: The Celtics should have never been a one seed in the first place, and only found themselves atop the Eastern Conference by default because the Cavs decided to play the second half of the season on horse tranquilizers. They are a solid but flawed team lacking in the kind of star power that can cover up such flaws in a playoff series. Even if they end up losing this series to the Bulls, who now own a 2-0 lead heading back home, we’re not even in the same neighborhood as Warriors over Mavs or Nuggets over Sonics.
Still, the top seed in the Eastern Conference is getting its ass whooped by a Bulls squad that just a few weeks ago looked like it wanted nothing more than for the season to be over. What’s even more shocking than the Celtics struggling in this series is the fact that the Bulls, a team that drifted into the playoffs like a trash barge, are playing good basketball.
Rajon Rondo, who has spent the last few seasons as the NBA’s most deadly poison pill, is suddenly giving vintage Rondo performances—last night’s 11-14-9 to go along with five steals felt like it was transported from 2008. Robin Lopez is grabbing every rebound in sight, Dwyane Wade is hitting clutch shots, Jimmy Butler is being Jimmy Butler, and something called Paul Zipser is providing solid minutes off the bench.
Let’s not forget that these guys all seemed to genuinely loathe each other for most of the season. Remember back in January, when Wade and Butler ripped their teammates for not caring enough, and then Rondo responded with an overtly aggressive Instagram post?
Remember when they played one of the most dreadful quarters in basketball history? Remember when a five-game losing streak in March had the whole world convinced that they Bulls were quitting on the season? (They probably were!)
That’s who the Celtics are losing to right now. The actual mechanics of how they’re losing aren’t that difficult to explain: They can’t rebound for shit, they don’t have enough scoring prowess to dig themselves out of holes, and players are openly bickering with each other on the floor. What’s hard to explain is how the Bulls suddenly became the rock-solid team in this matchup while the Celtics have become the one seemingly headed towards a season-ending meltdown. Basketball is a weird sport.