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NBA Playoffs Day Seven: Making Stands

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Three games on the slate tonight in Chicago, Oklahoma City, and Salt Lake.

NBA: Playoffs-Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics at Bulls
6:00 pm CDT
ESPN

It’s been a terrible week for the Celtics. They lost two games at home to the eighth seeded Bulls, looking overwhelmed on the boards and without ideas offensively. Much more importantly, this came after Isaiah Thomas lost his young sister in a car accident prior to the start of the series. One’s heart goes out to Thomas, who is playing with what must be an extremely heavy burden.

Tonight we find out if the Celtics are going to just pack it in for the year or if they still want to play. Watching the first two games, it was easy to wonder how they managed to win 53 and grab the top seed. It’s really a credit to them and how hard they worked that they managed to get there, but it all fell apart in Boston. The Bulls meanwhile have a great shot to salvage their season. After a lot of bickering and looking finished, they are two wins away from the second round, and getting terrific play from Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Robin Lopez to go along with Jimmy Butler. What looked like a mistaken investment in veterans last summer is now paying dividends.

UPDATE: The Bulls have announced that Rajon Rondo is out indefinitely with a broken thumb.

Rockets at Thunder
8:30 pm CDT
ESPN

For three quarters, Russell Westbrook was enough. The Thunder were leading the Rockets in game two mostly thanks to Westbrook’s relentlessness and the Rockets’ misfirings. But it wasn’t enough. The Rockets just don’t stop on offense, and their depth of scoring options ultimately won the day so they take a 2-0 series lead into Oklahoma City for game three tonight.

I speculated before the series that Westbrook would be enough to get the Thunder a win or two in this series, and I still think that’s likely, but game two was a chance at it and they couldn’t close the deal as he finally cooled off in the fourth quarter and the Thunder had nobody else to step up. I expect the other Thunder players will play better at home, that’s how it usually goes, but they are behind the eight ball now and the Rockets showed they can win even with an average performance. The Thunder need some secondary scoring from Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter, and need to figure out how to survive with Westbrook on the bench.

Clippers at Jazz
9:00 pm CDT
ESPN

This will be fun. The teams split two close games in Los Angeles, though the Clippers were really in control of game two most of the way. The Jazz will once again be without Rudy Gobert, who injured his knee at the start of game one. That is a harsh blow since he is such a vital part of what they do at both ends of the floor.

Still, they competed admirably on the road, and will no doubt feel more comfortable back at home. They’ve done a good job of limiting the Clippers beyond the arc (J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford are a combined 1-14 from three) and keeping the Clippers off the free throw line, thus limiting the damage the Clips can do. Their own offense has struggled, and they’ve become reliant on “Iso” Joe Johnson, but they are grinding.

The Clippers are getting production from their stars, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, but not much else. Paul is the key and the obvious best player in this series. When he’s on the floor, the Clippers are the better team, but they have struggled badly when he sits. Redick has been stymied through two games, which upsets the Clippers’ rhythm, and their bench play has not been good.

I expect these games in Utah to be physical and highly contested, and I’m looking forward to them.