By RYAN BRAUCH
The 2016-2017 NBA season featured and intense Eastern Conference battle for the first overall playoff seed, between the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers held the top seed heading into the All-Star break with a record of 39-16, the Celtics followed them closely at 37-20.
As the season came to a close, Cavaliers’ head coach Tyronn Lue began to sit stars like Lebron James and Kyrie Irving more and more, making the team more susceptible to losing, while the Celtics were focused on the first overall seed. In the end, Boston was able to clinch the Eastern Conference regular season title with a record of 53-29 with the Cavs following with 51-31. Heading into the playoffs, the Celtics appeared to be favorites to make it to the Finals, but now their championship hopes are in jeopardy, as the trail the No. 8 seed Chicago Bulls 0-2 in their first round series.
Prior to Game 1 of the series, Chyna Thomas, sister of the Celtics’ rising star Isaiah Thomas, died on Saturday in a one-car accident. With such a sudden and devastating tragedy, speculation surrounded Thomas and the Celtics on whether the star point guard would play on Sunday against Chicago.
Despite losing his sister, Thomas put the team first and announced he would in fact play in Game 1 of the series. Receiving condolences from friends and players all around the league, Thomas prepared for the game determined to win for Chyna. As expected, Thomas was extremely emotional during the game, as he gave teammate Avery Bradley a hug after making a shot. In an evenly matched game, Thomas put up 33 points but the Celtics still came up short as the Bulls stole the win 106-102.
Chicago’s upset was fueled by a motivated Jimmy Butler, who contributed 30 points. After working frivolously to attain that first seed, the fans in the TD Garden were both appalled and nervous as they watched their home squad take a loss with such high emotional stakes.
Looking to redeem their loss on Sunday, head coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics went into Game 2 determined to tie up the series with force. Unfortunately for Boston, the Bulls had no intention of leaving the playoffs early, as they played the Celtics even harder than they did in Game 1. Chicago, led by Rajon Rondo and Butler, completely embarrassed Boston, dousing them 111-97. Butler flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
Rondo also had a magnificent night, recording 11 points and 14 assists but what demoralized the Celtics the most, was what Rondo said. Several Boston players heard Rondo telling his team “Yeah, they gave up. They gave up” and Celtics’ play confirmed. Stevens’ squad just looked outdid in every facet.
Traveling to Chicago for the next two games of the series, Thomas and the Celtics look to find a way out of the hole they dug themselves. If Boston wants to avoid a stunning first round exit, they have to control Jimmy Butler on defense. In the aftermath of one of the most tragic events of his life, can Isaiah Thomas push his emotions to the side and take the reins of his team before it’s too late? The Celtics have a chance to take a road win from the Bulls on Friday.