CHICAGO — With his team in a 2-0 hole, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens can’t rule out any possibilities.
So when the Celtics’ first-round Eastern Conference playoff series against the Chicago Bulls shifts to the United Center on Friday night, Stevens is leaving his options open — even if that means changing how his team looked in two lopsided losses.
Meanwhile, the Bulls will look to replicate a game plan that provided them with two road victories over the top-seeded Celtics.
“We have to continue to go out and play for each other,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said Thursday. “I know our guys aren’t satisfied, and we have to continue to bring it, and I’m confident that our guys will.”
The Celtics find themselves scrambling to right the ship before the series gets any worse for Boston than it already is. The team and star guard Isaiah Thomas are already dealing with the emotional pain that came when Thomas’ sister, Chyna, was killed in a car accident last weekend.
Thomas left to be with his family in Tacoma, Wash., on Wednesday and according to the Boston Herald, funeral arrangements were not yet complete. The Celtics traveled to Chicago without Thomas, who is expected to return to play in Game 3 on Friday night.
“This is really hard, this is super hard on Isaiah, you can tell,” Stevens said Wednesday. “During the games and walkthroughs, he’s trying his very best to focus. (Basketball) can be a guy’s sanctuary. That’s what the gym is for Isaiah. It alleviates the pain for a couple of hours. We are here to support him in any which way we can. It’s tough, a challenge, but it’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Stevens also faces the challenge of rallying his team after back-to-back losses. While he said he wouldn’t take possible lineup changes off the table, Stevens added that his team needs to focus on the small things and make changes on a possession-by-possession basis rather than trying to figure out how to make up for all of the shortcomings that put the Celtics in the hole they find themselves in.
“We need to go to Chicago and steal two from them just like they did to us,” guard Avery Bradley said. “That’s our mentality … now it’s our job to go out there and prove it.”
For his part, Hoiberg will continue to stress the little things that gave the Bulls the advantage as they head back to Chicago.
While the Bulls’ Three Alphas — Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo — have come together to pace the wins in the first two games, the Chicago bench also played a major role. On Thursday, Hoiberg praised reserves Bobby Portis and Paul Zipser for their parts in Chicago’s success.
Hoiberg also likes the pace and unselfishness the Bulls played with in Boston. Given the resiliency and road poise he expects to see from the Celtics starting Friday night, he wants to keep things as status quo as possible moving forward.
“It’s about everybody on your roster playing a part,” Hoiberg said. “That’s what it’s all about this time of year is going out and playing your role to the best of your abilities and doing your job.”