CHICAGO (AP) — The Boston Celtics got hit with a devastating emotional blow just as the playoffs were about to start. They dropped the first two games at home, too.
Just as things really were starting to look bleak, they began to show just why they earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics rallied to knock off the Chicago Bulls in six games, and now they're ready for a collision with John Wall and the Washington Wizards in the East semifinals.
"Sometimes, we lose sight of the important things in life," Al Horford said after Boston knocked out Chicago 105-83 on Friday night. "You appreciate life at the same time when you don't take for granted any of the moments. It was a rough couple of days for us to start the playoffs. The team wasn't ready."
Isaiah Thomas and his family were rocked by the death of his sister Chyna in a car accident the day before the playoff opener. The Celtics star played through tears at times. But he also got the support he needed from his teammates and gave the Celtics a big lift in the series.
Avery Bradley did what the Celtics needed him to do, whether he was sticking with Jimmy Butler or pouring in the points. He scored a career playoff-high 24 in Game 5 and almost matched that with 23 in the clincher.
The Celtics also benefited from a lineup switch after Game 2, going with Gerald Green over Amir Johnson. All he did was score 18 points in Game 4 and 16 in Game 6 to help Boston win a tougher-than-expected series.
"The lineup change I thought really helped us," Horford said. "Bringing Gerald Green in and moving me to the 5, I felt like we really were able to spread them out and take advantage of certain looks we haven't gone to all year. I think that for us, that was the difference. Once we made that adjustment, we were harder to guard. We got it together, and we got it going."
How far can they go?
The Celtics advanced in the playoffs for the first time since 2012. They looked more like the team that led the East with 53 wins to finish two games ahead of defending champion Cleveland and Toronto as this series wore on.
Sure, it didn't hurt that the Bulls' Rajon Rondo sat out the final four games because of a broken right thumb. Chicago struggled in a big way without him, but Boston had something to do with that, too. And in Game 6, it was no contest.
The Celtics set the tone by hitting 3s on their first three possessions on the way to a 13-point halftime lead. They buried Chicago in the third, outscoring the Bulls 34-18. Things got so lopsided that Thomas gathered his teammates near the baseline late in the quarter and screamed: "That's a wrap for these (expletives)!"
It was a big exclamation mark for a team that looked as if it might be on the way to a quick exit after Game 2. They're staring at another big challenge, trying to slow Wall and the Wizards. But Jae Crowder likes what he's seeing from the Celtics.
"A lot of underdogs in this locker room," he said. "A lot of guys who had to prove themselves in this league ... who've been through the ropes, who've had to prove themselves. It's in our DNA."
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