Inspired Celtics down Rajon Rondo-less Bulls

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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Rajon Rondo knew, as the Bulls season threatened to unravel, a veteran like Kevin Garnett would have effectively handled the adversity. Rondo never apologized for pointing that out on Instagram. He has little patience for feelings when it comes to conveying the truth as he sees it.

And Rondo was right. The retired Garnett would know just what to say amid crisis.

Unfortunately for Rondo, Garnett delivered his message to their former team.

Sparked by a pregame message from Garnett and Isaiah Thomas‘ return from his sister’s funeral, the Celtics beat Chicago 104-87 in Game 3 Friday. After being stunned twice at home to begin the first-round series, No. 1 seed Boston faces a much more manageable 2-1 deficit.

“Isaiah played a clip from KG before the game, and it kind of got us going a little bit,” Celtics guard Avery Bradley said. “KG said some inspirational words for us, and he reminded us, Celtics, we’re always supposed to be the hardest-playing team every single night. And we’re supposed to use Isaiah’s family, use that as inspiration and come out and play hard for him and his family.

He said, You can either play two ways. You can either make excuses and say it’s emotional. ‘Oh, let’s give up this year and worry about next year.’ Or you can fight and fight for his family, and that’s what we did.”

Meanwhile, Rondo sat and watched in a garish red short-sleeved suit, sidelined with a broken thumb.

Chicago sure missed him.

The Bulls lost their offensive flow, and Jimmy Butler (14 points on 7-of-21 shooting) and Dwyane Wade (18 points on 6-of-18 shooting) settled for tough shots. Credit Boston’s perimeter defenders, especially Avery Bradley, but they don’t fully explain how out of sync Chicago looked.

Point guards Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams combined to score eight points on 3-of-10 shooting with three assists and seven turnovers in 39 minutes. Grant, who started, especially looked in over his head.

Without Rondo’s throwback defense disrupting at the point of attack, Brad Steven’s offense hummed.

The Bulls again dominated the glass, but the Celtics cede rebounds to play highly skilled offensive players rather than a bunch of brutes. That trade-off finally worked in Boston’s favor tonight.

Thomas (16 points and nine assists) and Al Horford (18 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals) clicked in the pick-and-roll, and Bradley (15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists), Jae Crowder (16 points, six rebounds and three assists), Terry Rozier (11 points on 4-of-6 shooting) and Marcus Smart (seven points, six rebounds and five assists) all had their moments.

Chicago had few. The Bulls shot 39% from the field, including 29% on 3-pointers. Their offensive rebounding helped, but that’s too many initial misses.

The Celtics assisted more shots (34, a 2017 postseason high for any team) than Chicago made (33).

The Bulls can win ugly games, but Boston kept this one too pretty.

Chicago’s answer could be to muck it up further and remove point guards entirely, at least more so. In 11 minutes with Wade and and Butler in the backcourt without a traditional point guard, the Bulls outscored the Celtics by two.

Unfortunately for Chicago, its best answer is stuck on the bench with a broken thumb while his revered former teammate motivates the other team.