The Boston Celtics were supposed to use their No. 1 seed in the East to challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers for conference supremacy.
The Chicago Bulls had other ideas.
After two games in Boston in this opening round playoff series, the Bulls are up 2-0 and headed back home. The Celtics, meanwhile, look like a glass-jawed fighter who's been punched in the mouth following Chicago's shocking 111-97 win in Game 2.
Although this series is far from over, Boston has to be in full-fledged panic mode. Even if the Celtics can come back from such a massive deficit, there's a bigger problem: the Bulls have shined a glaring spotlight on Boston's three biggest issues.
Winslow TownsonWinslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
The Celtics are doomed by their failure to rebound
The NBA has a complicated relationship with rebounding.
On the one hand, teams know that cleaning up the glass is the final step in getting a stop. Defensive rebounding is viewed as innately valuable, at least in theory.
Yet offensive rebounds are viewed with disdain. Chasing your own missed shots leaves a team vulnerable to transition opportunities going the other way, so many franchises have eschewed putbacks altogether.
That latter perspective has seeped into how we view rebounding in general. As we celebrate scorers and lockdown defenders, the big man who can box out two people on his own and still rip down a board has lost value.
And here's where we find the Boston Celtics, desperately trying to keep Robin Lopez & Co. off of the glass on both ends of the court.
The Celtics thought adding the versatile Al Horford to their roster would help in the aggregate, and Horford is undoubtedly a talented player. Unfortunately, his teams struggle to rebound when he's on the court, going back to his time in Atlanta.
So time and again, Lopez and the Chicago bigs are bullying past Horford and his teammates to beat them to rebounds. Even when the Celtics manage to force the Bulls into a poor shot — and make no mistake, there are plenty — they can't finish the possession by getting the rebound.
Boston adjusted in the second half of Game 2, starting Tyler Zeller for Amir Johnson, only to see more of the same.
Horford did finish with 11 rebounds, but as we all know from the neverending discussions about Russell Westbrook, not all boards are created equal.
Even if the Celtics can somehow rebound from becoming just the second No. 1 seed to go down 2-0 in a series, their rebounding woes aren't going away. Should they somehow make their way to a conference finals against the Cavs, Boston is doomed.
Kim KlementKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Boston doesn't have a scorer to settle them down -- or get a bucket in the clutch
Basketball is a team game — but sometimes, you need one superstar who can go out and roast the opposition when things aren't going so hot.
It's here where the Celtics really have to be kicking themselves for not trading for Paul George. As overmatched as his Pacers are against the Cavaliers, George is keeping his squad competitive through sheer force of will.
Boston, for all its talent and hardnosed pugnacity, doesn't have the kind of guy who can demand the ball and fill it up one-on-one. And when the game comes down to the closing moments, that deficiency is only exacerbated.
Having to rely on hero ball on every possession is foolish; so is thinking your team can execute to perfection every time.
Now, you might think that Isaiah Thomas is that guy. Yet therein lies the rub for the Celtics ...
Isaiah Thomas struggles in the playoffs, just like all small guards
Let's be very, very clear: Thomas is a warrior for fighting through all of the emotion and heartbreak in his life to play in the first two games of this series. Our hearts and thoughts go out to the Celtics point guard and his family.
Still, in the same way Thomas has to focus on what's going on between the lines, we have to analyze Boston as a whole. And as long as Thomas is the Celtics' best player, this team isn't going to make the NBA Finals.
That has nothing to do with his current situation; it's a larger, macro issue. Small point guards get devoured by bigger defenders in the playoffs. It's too easy for opponents to come up with effective game plans to minimize their offensive impact while exploiting the mismatch on the other end.
Thomas has acquitted himself about as well as possible on defense through two games, but he's still a glaring target for the Bulls' offense to attack. And if he can't shake Rajon Rondo on offense, Thomas goes from fringe MVP candidate to postseason liability.
With all that said, here's hoping Thomas comes back with a vengeance in Game 3. We're pulling for the two-time All-Star to have the greatest possible success through these trying times.