Rondo the kingpin as Bulls hit overdrive

Celtics face prospect of major play-off upset as point guard sparks surprise 2-0 series lead

BOSTON • The Chicago Bulls needed a 7-3 regular-season finish and a tie-breaker just to get into the NBA play-offs as an eighth seed.

Now, they are in complete control of their first-round Eastern Conference series against the top-seeded Boston Celtics.

Chicago are the first No. 8 seed to take a 2-0 lead in a first-round series - and even better, they did it on the road.

"I'm not surprised, because everybody's so locked in right now," Jimmy Butler said after his 22 points, eight rebounds and four steals helped the Bulls earn a 111-97 victory over Boston in Game Two on Tuesday.

"Everybody's putting in extra work, watching that film, working on their game. That's where your confidence always comes from."

Bulls forward Jimmy Butler blocks Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas during Chicago's 111-97 victory over top seeds Boston in Game Two of their first-round Eastern Conference series. Butler, who had 22 points, eight rebounds and four steals, said the victor
Bulls forward Jimmy Butler blocks Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas during Chicago's 111-97 victory over top seeds Boston in Game Two of their first-round Eastern Conference series. Butler, who had 22 points, eight rebounds and four steals, said the victory was no surprise to him. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

It also helps that Rajon Rondo is playing like vintage Rondo, the point guard who masterminded the Celtics' title run in 2008.

He just missed his 11th play-off triple-double, finishing with 11 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds. His point differential is a stellar +24 in 40 minutes of play, and he also added five steals.

The big Game Two effort followed his Game One contribution of 12 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

"It's key when you have a point guard like him that controls the whole game - you've just got to play," said Dwyane Wade, who had 22 points, eight of them coming in a 10-0 spurt that put away Game Two.

"Tonight, our job was easy. We just had to play. As I told him, 'Way to run your team'."

Said Rondo: "For the play-offs, for me in particular, you get a couple extra days of rest for the body. I get three or four days of prep on a team, lock into their game plan, and I'm playing plus minutes.

"I don't know what it is. I just try to lock in and do what I can for my team."

The Bulls, 41-41 in the regular season, are attempting to become the sixth No. 8 seed to upset a No. 1 in the first round - and the first since the Philadelphia 76ers upset Chicago in the 2012 play-offs.

Game Three is in Chicago tomorrow as the Celtics face the possibility of not playing in front of their home fans again this season.

Those fans booed their team on more than one occasion on Tuesday, including a loud chorus of jeers as the final seconds ticked off.

"(The Bulls) came in and took (it), and we have to do the same thing," said Boston's Jae Crowder. "Take it one game at a time and try to get Game Three."

Six Bulls finished in double figures, with Robin Lopez scoring 18, Paul Zipser 16 off the bench and Nikola Mirotic 13. Butler also posted eight rebounds and eight assists.

Lopez was eight of 11 from the floor, most of it from outside, and he also grabbed eight boards.

Celtics' Isaiah Thomas, who flew to Tacoma, Washington, yesterday to attend the funeral of his younger sister, Chyna, who was killed in a car crash, scored 20 points but was just six of 15 from the floor, including one of five from three-point range.

He missed six of his 13 free throws, had two assists and committed five turnovers. His point differential was -20 in 42min.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2017, with the headline 'Rondo the kingpin as Bulls hit overdrive'. Print Edition | Subscribe