CHICAGO — Even after the Boston Celtics dropped the first two games of their Eastern Conference playoff series against the Chicago Bulls, coach Brad Stevens wouldn’t let his players drop their heads.
Stevens kept telling his team that finding a way to maintain an even keel — even in the face of adversity — would be key. Now, after three consecutive victories, Boston finds itself one win away from advancing out of the first round for the first time in Stevens’ tenure.
The Celtics hope to carry the momentum of their 108-97 victory Wednesday night into Game 6, which will be played at the United Center on Friday night. Boston surged to victory Wednesday by ending the game on a 20-4 run despite seeing its leading scorer, guard Isaiah Thomas, shoot 6-for-17 from the field and 1-of-10 from 3-point range.
And yet, the Celtics found a way to play through it.
“It’s kind of been the story of our team, being able to fight through adversity,” guard Avery Bradley said after matching Thomas with 24 points in Game 5. “No matter what we go through, we would overcome it, and I think it’s this group of guys, our coaching staff — we believe. We believe in one another.”
Now the Celtics, who have already won a pair of games in Chicago, believe they can close out the series and advance. Should the Bulls win for the first time in three tries on their home floor, the series would shift back to Boston for a deciding Game 7 on Sunday night.
While the Celtics have all the momentum after three double-digit victories, the Bulls will make a final push at extending the series. Chicago has been rudderless since losing veteran point guard Rajon Rondo, who fractured his thumb in Game 2 — the last time the Bulls won. After sitting out the past three games, Rondo remains a long shot to return for Game 6, although there has been speculation that he could be back at some point son.
Rondo told reporters Wednesday that he likely won’t play again as his fractured thumb hasn’t improved.
“I knew last week it wasn’t going to be fixed in a week,” Rondo said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “My finger is broken.”
Rondo or no Rondo, the reality remains the same for the Bulls: They are running out of time.
After taking a lead into the fourth quarter of Game 5 when Jimmy Butler beat the buzzer with a basket, Chicago’s collapse in the final 12 minutes again demonstrated a team that is fading.
The Bulls erased 20-point deficits in Games 3 and 4 before Boston surged ahead to capture victories. Although Chicago didn’t fall into the same sort of hole on Wednesday night, the Bulls again couldn’t muster enough to pull out of win. And now, they are one loss from seeing their season end.
The attitude, according to Butler, is a simple one.
“Win at all costs,” Butler said after Wednesday’s loss. “That should be motivation enough, to know that if we don’t win this next game, we ain’t playing no more this season.”