BOSTON — The Boston Celtics know enough about Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to know their series with the Chicago Bulls that opens on Sunday night is more than your typical No. 1 seed versus No. 8.
“They’re the eighth seed, but they’re better than what seed they are,” Isaiah Thomas said Friday. “They’re a really good team, especially with Dwyane Wade back. So we have to be ready for them.”
The Celtics (53-29), who clinched the top seed on the final night of the season, which is when the Bulls (41-41) secured their spot, will have 260 games of playoff experience to deal with in Wade and old pal Rondo.
“They’ve been playing much better,” said Al Horford, brought to Boston with the playoffs in mind as the Celtics look for their first playoff win under coach Brad Stevens.
“I think that they have a lot of experience, obviously with Dwyane Wade, (Rajon) Rondo, (Jimmy) Butler, the list goes on. They have just a lot of guys that have been in playoff atmospheres, are familiar with them. They’ve been playing much better. It should be a fun series.”
Unfortunately for Thomas, he has more pressing matters on his mind. His sister, Chyna, was killed in a one-car accident early Saturday morning, according to the Washington State police.
Isaiah Thomas received the news after taking part in the Celtics’ practice in the afternoon, ESPN reported. The network cited a source as saying that Thomas is expected to play on Sunday when the team opens its Eastern Conference first-round series against the Chicago Bulls.
“We are terribly saddened by the tragic loss of Chyna Thomas,” the Celtics said in a statement Saturday. “The thoughts and prayers of the entire Celtics organization are with Isaiah and his family.”
As for matters back on the court, the Bulls won their last two games after a loss at Brooklyn and come into the first round with seven wins in their last 10 games.
“I think it’s going to be a tough series,” Wade said. “It says 1-8 but I think it’s going to be a little tougher than that.”
The teams split four games during the regular season, both winning their two home games and the Bulls getting one of their victories thanks to a controversial foul call on Marcus Smart with nine-tenths of a second remaining. Butler hit the two free throws to clinch the win.
Chicago traded Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott at the deadline in what many felt was a sign management was packing it in. But a healthy Wade knows how to lead and the Celtics are expecting to see “National TV Rondo,” a player who has always loved the limelight.
Wade is averaging 22.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game in 166 playoff games, while Rondo has dished out 9.1 assists to go with 14.4 points and 5.9 rebounds in his 66 postseason outings.
Neither is the player he used to be, but experience can be valuable when you’re playing a team that had 12 more wins that you during the regular season — a team that has yet to win a playoff series that would add another block in a rebuilding process.
In short, all the pressure in this matchup falls on the Celtics, a team good enough to get to the conference final and unpredictable enough to lose in the first round.
Butler, rumored to perhaps be heading to the Celtics at the deadline, wanted to guard Thomas at the end of that Bulls second home win and wants to do it again.
“Yeah, I look forward to that matchup,” Butler said. “Especially what he’s done this year for that team. I know it’s going to come at some point. I don’t know when, I don’t know where, but you know I’m going to make it tough for him. For anybody I’m guarding.
“But not just me. It’s going to be a team effort. I’m going to get beat at times, and I’m going to need guys to be there. I look forward to that challenge. I want that. He’s a big part to what they do. I think we all know that.”