Four games of the Boston Celtics opening round series against the Chicago Bulls have now come and gone.
This is probably the weirdest playoff series that the Celtics have ever been involved in; at the very least, this is the oddest series they’ve played in recent memory.
Things began with the tragic loss of Isaiah Thomas’ little sister and we’re now four games in with no team figuring out a way to hold home court. Sandwiched between it all has been Gerald Green getting his first start for the Celtics since 2007, Jimmy Butler calling Marcus Smart a fake tough guy, the re-rise of Rajon Rondo in the eyes of many people, the fall of Rajon Rondo with him getting injured again, Rondo trying to trip Jae Crowder from the bench, Crowder and Brook Lopez trying to untie each other’s shoes and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg complaining about Isaiah Thomas cheating on “every possession.”
Seriously, were any of those predictable about a week ago?
But through all the odd events, there has been a lot of basketball played and the window to begin judging players is now open! Here’s your player grades (roughly) midway through the first round.
Avery Bradley – C+
Game three of this series was a masterpiece for Bradley as he came through in what was arguably the most important game of Brad Stevens’ tenure. He scored 15 points on 50% shooting and a 4-for-6 mark from three while also grabbing seven rebounds, dishing out seven assists and basically guarding Jimmy Butler from inside the man’s own jersey. Bradley was the Celtics best overall player in what was their best game as a team so far this series, but he also hasn’t looked like himself in the other three games. That game three blowout win was the only time so far this series in which the former Texas standout shot 40% from the floor while his defense has been a bit un-Bradley like in the other games as well. He averaged a career high 6.1 RPG during the regular season, but outside of his stellar game three he’s also been a ghost on the boards by averaging just 2.0 per game across the other contests.
Jaylen Brown – D
There isn’t really a nice way to put it; Jaylen Brown looked lost in games one and two, leading to him falling out of the rotation completely. Offensivly he looked pretty good in game one – scoring five points on 2-for-2 shooting with no turnovers in 11 minutes – but he just seemed overwhelmed on the defensive end as he let Bulls roll players just walk all over him and he only saw nine minutes of action early in game two before finding perment seat on the bench. This is a 20-year old kid who got 20 starts as a rookie – games in which the Celtics went 14-6 – so there is no reason to be concerned about his long term future, but Stevens sitting him down does appear to have been the right move for now.
Jae Crowder – C
His three point shot has gone pretty cold this series and while his defense hasn’t been bad, we know it can still be a little better just like Bradley’s. That being said, Crowder is still a workhorse and is coming off a game where he logged a team high 40 minutes. With Gerald Green now starting alongside him and Jaylen Brown out of the rotation, it seems like that will be normal for him and he easily could have eclipsed 40 minutes during game three as well but there was some extended fourth quarter garbage time with the contest turning into a blowout. He shot 39.3% from beyond the arc this season – which is overwhelmingly a career best – so to see his playoff mark at 27.4% – which would be a career low if plugged into his regular season totals – is a bit disappointing.
Gerald Green – A-
The “Danny Ainge can’t draft” crowd looks a little silly right now, even if it is on a pure technicality. Boston’s 2005 first round pick – and the last man to rock #5 before Kevin Garnett – has gone above and beyond what anybody expected him to do in this series. What’s incredible is that he wasn’t even in the rotation when this series began. Green got just six minutes during the first game and didn’t play in game two before starting the third and fourth games. The former slam dunk champion has shot 50% from three over his two starts and was especially dominate in the game four win, piling in 18 points and snagging seven rebounds. But be cautious because this happened with Jonas Jerebko during the playoffs last year when the team fell down 0-2 and Stevens plugged him into the starting lineup. This also worked very well for the next two games as the team evened out the series, but Jerebko fell apart while continuing to start in games five and six as the Celtics lost both games by a combined 39 points.
Al Horford – A
Way too many people starting to complain about Horford’s contract when this team fell into an 0-2 hole. This was stupid because the veteran center was easily the team’s best player through those two games, especially that first game when he flirted with a triple-double and was arguably the only reason why Boston didn’t get blown out. He’s leading the team in rebounds through four games and is second in assists, just 0.2 behind Isaiah Thomas for the team lead. Horford is also second on the team in blocks and steals while also shooting 54.3% from the field and 50% from downtown. The Dominican big man has never been a guy who has his stats jump off the page, so who knows what the “fans” complaining about his production expected from him when he came as a free agent. But this is a guy who can contribute in literally every area and there is no role he can’t fill for the Celtics right now.
Jonas Jerebko – C
It’s kind of hard to tell if Jerebko is actually in the rotation or not. He played just 14 minutes through the first three games and seven of them were in the fourth quarter of the game three blowout, so he was really banking hard on some garbage time minutes. Jerebko did play decently well in that limited sample size though; he was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field – all two point attempts – with three rebounds and an assist. Stevens handed him some “real” minutes in game four and things didn’t go as well as he was 0-for-3 from the field with three rebounds in ten minutes of action. Kelly Olynyk – and some others – playing through foul trouble could have helped him sneak in for some of those minutes, so his usage for the remainder of the series remains a mystery.
Amir Johnson – D-
Despite starting, Kelly Olynyk still averaged more minutes per game than Johnson so you had to have some gut feeling that if Johnson ever slipped out of the starting lineup for anybody who wasn’t Canadian, it would basically be a death sentence to his spot in the rotation. This gut feeling held up and Johnson played just six minutes off the bench in game three before getting no playing time in game four. It was clear that he had a very short leash coming into the series because after a horrible game one, Johnson got no second half playing time in game two when his play didn’t get any better.
Kelly Olynyk – B+
The Canadian big man has seen a reduction in minutes compared to his regular season average, but he’s still been an extremely efficient force off the bench for the Celtics. What’s even better is that he’s having some strong spurts in crucial minutes, including the final sixty seconds of the third quarter in game four. Olynyk scored two baskets and blocked a Jimmy Butler layup at the other end of the floor all in the final minute of the quarter, helping the Celtics go into the final frame with a nine point lead; which could have been a lot worse after they watched their entire double-digit halftime lead disappear in the opening six minutes of the third. He’s averaging 8.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG and 3.0 APG though the first four games of this series. Olynyk is shooting 52.0% from the field and 45.5% from beyond the arc while also leading the Celtics with four total blocks through these four games.
Marcus Smart – B+
Smart has never shot 40% from the floor in any of his three NBA seasons and he hasn’t shot 30% from three since his rookie year, so to see him shooting 40.6% from the field and 37.5% from beyond the arc through these four games is a good sign. He’s easily been the best player for Boston off the bench this series, scoring 8.5 PPG to go along with 6.0 RPG and 4.8 APG. Smart had his worst shooting night of the postseason in the game four win – going 2-for-7 from the floor – but he often finds a way to stills stand out while still tossing up bricks and he did just that by pitching in with eight rebounds – including four on the offensive end – six assists, a block and a steal.
Isaiah Thomas – A-
People love to hand out the “he can’t get it done when it matters” tag to athletes who shrink in the playoffs and Thomas was probably a few games away from getting that label, but he’s seemed to have held that off a bit with a very solid series. He shot below 40% from the field against the Cleveland Cavaliers two years ago and the Atlanta Hawks last year, so to see his shooting percentage at 45.8% for the series is a nice change. Thomas had also had an equal or negative assist to turnover ratio in five of his ten career postseason games heading into this year and he’s only had one such game so far in this series, which was in game two. The game four victory serves as his signature postseason performance to date. There was a time in the third quarter when everything around him was crumbling, but Thomas started attacking the rim and getting buckets to keep the team afloat. Guys like Horford and Olynyk started to step up a little later on and help Boston pull away in the end, but the Bulls likely would have built themselves a nice lead if Thomas hadn’t done work before getting that assistance.
Tyler Zeller – C
Johnson getting benched opened up a starting spot for Gerald Green, but it was Zeller who started the second half of game two when Stevens first benched his usual starting power forward. The former North Carolina star actually gave the Celtics nine solid minutes in that half and scored four points on a perfect 2-for-2 shooting performance. Boston wound up getting beat badly that night because nothing else was working around Zeller. Unless something else starts to go very wrong, you probably won’t see Zeller anymore this series but it is good to know that you have a capable center in your back pocket who can come in at a moment’s notice and give you good minutes.