2017 NBA Playoff Betting: Why the Celtics Can Come Back From 2-0 Hole

by Kevin Roberts
on April 20, 2017

Things have not gone as planned for the Boston Celtics so far in the 2017 NBA Playoffs. Star point guard Isaiah Thomas has been playing with a heavy heart due to the death of his sister, Boston hasn’t shown up on defense and Thomas hasn’t received the offensive help he’s needed from the rest of his supporting cast.

Suddenly down in an unfathomable 2-0 hole, it’s fair to wonder if the Celtics will just mail it in and get swept by the 8-seeded Chicago Bulls.

It’s not a crazy notion, either. The next two games of this first round series shift to the United Center, where the Bulls played their best basketball during the regular season, going 25-16.

But how did we actually get here?

Boston’s core issues all year have been playing through a tiny superstar and not always having a whole lot to back him up. They also haven’t been a good rebounding team and while capable of elite defense, Thomas has played a hand in the Celtics delivering anything but.

In this series specifically, Boston’s offense continues to hit snags thanks to Chicago’s defense. Everyone knows Jimmy Butler can be an elite defender, but center Robin Lopez can be a menace in the paint and Rajon Rondo is jumping into lanes and either picking up passes or disrupting them with shocking regularity.

Chicago’s transformation to a suddenly consistent defensive team with a methodical offense feels close to what we saw out of the Oklahoma City Thunder last year, when they took down the Spurs and almost upset the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

In addition, Jimmy Butler is rising to the occasion and getting help from his supporting cast when he needs it most. Bobby Portis came out of nowhere to be an asset from long range in game one and in game two Nikola Mirotic stepped up his game.

So far, everything has been breaking right for Chicago and Boston hasn’t had enough rebounding, offense, support, urgency, composure – you name it. They need more of everything and it needs to come now. But what, specifically, can be done? Plenty.

Here’s 5 reasons why the Celtics, down 2-0, aren’t dead just yet and might just storm back and win this series, after all:

It’s the Bulls

This is still the Chicago Bulls. They were the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference for a reason. One major reason why is their ridiculous inconsistency. One night they’d rise up and topple the Spurs or Cavs, then turn around and blow winnable games against the Nets or Knicks.

As soft of a #1 seed as Boston is making themselves out to be, the Bulls can’t be trusted to pull this ridiculous upset off. Chicago is maddeningly inconsistent in just about every respect, but the most obvious one is their shooting.

This was the 20th most efficient offense in the NBA during the regular season and they ranked 23rd in the league at converting the three ball and just 24th overall from the floor. Color us just a tad shocked that this team has been ablaze through the first two games, hitting 40% from deep and 51% overall in game two.

Their game one shooting wasn’t even good, but they crushed the glass and saved their best ball for the fourth quarter.

Still, the Bulls don’t shoot the ball well, themselves are just a middling rebounding team (17th in the league) and tend to be a totally different team on the road.

At some point, if the Celtics can just hang in there, it’s quite arguable the real Bulls will show up and face plant.

Use More Size

One great trick the Celtics could pull is to nullify Chicago’s insane rebounding advantage. We know the Celtics don’t rebound the ball very well. They run a lot of small ball lineups and their point guard is one of the smallest in the league. They also play Avery Bradley at the two for most of the game and he’s not a whole lot bigger.

As bad as Boston can be at rebounding, they were still better than Chicago during the regular season on average. They also have some size to turn to. Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller all can crash the glass, yet in game one just Olynyk logged more than 18 minutes. Boston relied on their starting five even more in game two, yet gave Johnson (8 minutes) even less run. Al Horford did a much better job on the glass (11 boards), though, and the margin was far better than it was in game one.

Boston still needs to find a way to adapt to their matchup and handing more minutes to Amir Johnson could give them a boost in interior scoring, interior defense and overall rebounding. Their focus to this point has been too offensive based due to Chicago’s pesky defense and that hasn’t helped their rebounding numbers.

Play Some Defense

Amir Johnson and perhaps Tyler Zeller could help on the boards, but they could also tighten things up defensively down low. Al Horford has lost his label as a plus defender in the paint, but Boston’s lack of defensive bite starts at the top with Isaiah Thomas and trickles down to the likes of Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder.

The latter three are elite individual defenders, but collectively the Celtics just aren’t getting it done. Perhaps their hard work can be nullified by Thomas and Horford not pulling their weight, but if that’s the case, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens might need to stagger his minutes and find a way to mask both Horford and Thomas a little better.

We know Boston is capable of defending better than this, and against a Bulls team that really only has two go-to options on offense and doesn’t historically shoot well, any added pressure could dramatically change this series.

Boston’s defense was not bad in game one, but their rebounding issues hurt them and they weren’t able to close the game out strong. In game two their defense was borderline non-existent.

This isn’t the same Boston defense that ranked 9th in the league in shooting percentage allowed and 2nd overall against the three ball. They need to batton down the hatches and make life a lot harder on Jimmy Butler and the other shooters. Butler or Wade getting buckets will be understandable, but allowing the likes of Jerian Grant, Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis or even Paul Zipser to burn this defense is flat out unacceptable.

A Little Help From My Friends

Isaiah Thomas has not had it easy to get the 2017 NBA Playoffs started. He’s constantly being hounded by Jimmy Butler and Chicago’s stifling defense, with their length and athleticism visibly giving him serious issues – specifically when he tries to work his magic inside.

But despite his own issues in this series, Thomas has looked like a lone warrior to this point. His paltry two dimes in game two probably tells us all we need to know, as Boston shooters are not connecting when they get open looks, or they’ve allowing Chicago’s defense to rush bad shots.

Jae Crowder woke up in game two, but he was absent in game one and Avery Bradley hasn’t been a reliable producer through the first two games, either. Al Horford put up a big performance in game one, but then struggled to get anything going in game two.

The bench was another story, as Kelly Olynyk and Marcus Smart chimed in with 24 total points in game two, but no bench player put up more than 9 points in game one.

The key here is inconsistency and it’s happening at the worst possible time. Jae Crowder is forcing shots when he’s a guy who should only be stroking wide open deep balls or keeping the offensive flow rolling with that extra pass. Bradley needs to take facilitating pressure off of Thomas, hit his own opens shots and create his own offense at a better rate. And Al Horford can’t let Robin Lopez win the battle down low, while also stretching the floor from long range when he gets his looks.

This is not some trash offense that doesn’t know how to handle an annoying defense. The Celtics finished the year 7th in points per game, and they’re more than capable of knocking down the three ball. Isaiah Thomas is supposed to be dropping in 29 points per game and getting help from outside shooters, however, and so far it hasn’t all clicked at the same time.

It certainly did all year long, however, and the Celtics need to (and can) relocate that offensive chemistry starting in game three.

Keep it Cool

Perhaps the most important thing for Boston to consider is to not freak out. They got to this point for a reason; they defended the perimeter, let Isaiah Thomas do his thing and knocked down open jumpers. They’ve also always played with a lot of swagger and through the first two games, seem to have a completely different mentality.

Boston has played like a defeated team. Perhaps it has something to do with Isaiah Thomas coping with a death in the family. Maybe the Bulls are just mentally suffocating the Celtics due to more playoff experience. Maybe the expectations of the #1 seed and the path that follows is too much to live up to.

Whatever the case, the Celtics need to take a deep breath, take a step back and relax. This isn’t an ideal position, but it’s not an impossible one, either. In fact, history tells us that.

History is Forgiving

This isn’t the first time a #1 seed has gone down 2-0 to a #8 seed. It happened to the Suns back when Charles Barkley was known more for his basketball talents than running his mouth. Phoenix stormed back and won – then a five-game opening round series.

Crazy NBA comebacks aren’t a new, shocking development, either. As weird as it is to see the Celtics look beside themselves against a team they should be up 2-0 against, we did see a few teams go up big in just last year’s playoffs, only to blow a massive lead.

The Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder coughed up their own 3-1 series lead in the series before that and just a few years ago the Los Angeles Clippers comically got housed by the Houston Rockets after taking a 3-1 series lead, as well.

Comebacks happen and they’re starting to happen with regularity. We’re not saying the Celtics will come back. That’s a tough call, as Chicago needs just two more wins to ice this thing and given how they’ve been playing, it’s tough to imagine that at this point.

History has opened the door to such happenings, however, and the Celtics boasting +195 odds to win this thing makes them a fun bet at top NBA betting sites like Bovada. In fact, if they win game three, their odds to win this series will dramatically improve, so betting on the Celtics has never been more attractive than right now.

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