By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) –Typically, teams rely on home court advantage to provide a boost in the playoffs.
But the Celtics are not your typical team, for good or bad.
As the surprise 1-seed of the Eastern Conference, Boston is flirting with the wrong side of history as they find themselves in a 2-0 hole to the Bulls as their first-round series shifts to Chicago for Games 3 and 4. The Celtics are hoping their two days off, most of which were spent in the Windy City, gave them an opportunity to come together the refocus as a team.
They know the cards are stacked against them the rest of the series, but they aren’t just going to roll over and bow out in the first round for the third straight postseason.
“It’s not ideal to go down 0-2, but our backs are against the wall right now. We as a team have played with a chip on our shoulder the whole year as underdogs. It will be familiar ground for us,” said forward Jae Crowder, who has been among the most disappointing players on Boston’s roster over the first two games.
[graphiq id=”6SmT0F8eDJP” title=”#1 Celtics vs. #8 Bulls – 2017 Playoff Series” width=”600″ height=”756″ url=”https://sw.graphiq.com/w/6SmT0F8eDJP” frozen=”true”]
The pressure may be mounting for Boston, but they aren’t going to show it. They’re carrying themselves with the same poise that head coach Brad Stevens, now just 2-10 in the playoffs, usually displays on the sidelines. Borrowing a play from Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Avery Bradley says the team needs to be as relaxed as can be when things tip off on Friday night.
“I think we just need to sit back and relax and just focus on just executing the game plan, whatever Brad prepares for us, and I feel like everything will be fine,” said Bradley. “We can’t panic. We’ve been here before. We just have to take it one game at a time and play as hard as we can, eliminate all the errors.”
The Celtics have been here before, down 2-0 to the Atlanta Hawks 366 days ago. That situation was much different though, as Boston’s two losses were on the road and they weren’t the top seed in the conference. While they were expected to advance last season, there wasn’t much confidence they’d be playing in the Eastern Conference Final as the East’s 5-seed. But the Celtics fought back and won the following two games against Atlanta to tie the series at 2-2, before ultimately losing in six games.
As for Friday night, expect a much more focused Celtics bunch than the ones that took the floor in Boston. Changes will be made, whether Stevens tinkers with his starting five or sends out new rotations throughout the game. Someone other than Isaiah Thomas, the only one with an excuse to be “off” this series, needs to step up on the offensive end. They need to take full advantage of Rajon Rondo’s surprise injury, with the Bulls without their floor general.
Most importantly, the Celtics have to get off to a fast start and not let any lead get away, as they did at the beginning of Game 2 when a 17-2 Chicago run quickly erased an early Boston lead. Rather than take some jabs and hope they can weather the storm, the Celtics have to be the ones to throw that proverbial first punch.
“All five guys have to be engaged and try to get the best shot every possession. Nothing they do should dictate how we want to play,” said Crowder. “We should instill our will a little better and that’s our challenge moving on to Game 3.”
As tall of a task that rests ahead of the Celtics if they want to come back from their series hole, they aren’t going to let that mountain consume them on Friday night. The mission is simple: Win the game. That will feed into Bradley’s hope that Boston will be a relaxed bunch on Friday night.
“When you’re not relaxed, you’re not thinking the game as much,” Bradley said. “You’re just out there kind of just running up and down playing, and I feel like that’s how it was last game. We were trying to get the game back in one shot. As a seasoned team, you have to understand that it’s going to take a few execution plays and a few defensive stops to get you back into the game.”=
Tune in to Celtics-Bulls Game 3 on 100.7FM WZLX! Pregame coverage begins at 6:30pm!