By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — A day before their most pivotal game of the season, Celtics big man Al Horford and guard Marcus Smart were repeating the same refrain.
“We’re all we have,” Horford said. “We’re fighting for our lives right here.”
“We’re all we got,” Smart said. “We’re all we got.”
That’s the state the Bulls’ 2-0 lead in their first-round series has left the Celtics in. The top seed in the East after winning 53 regular-season games, Boston was out of sorts and without its usual edge in dropping the first two games at home.
Eighth-seeded Chicago has displayed the superior physicality and utilized aggressive, creative tactics to defend star guard Isaiah Thomas, with Jimmy Butler switching onto him at times in pick-and-roll and in for long stretches in the fourth quarter serving as the primary defender.
The Bulls’ defense flummoxed and frustrated the Bulls in Game 2, a point Smart indirectly acknowledged ahead of practice Thursday afternoon.
“We just got to make the right play,” Smart said. “When we get in there, they’re all coming in as five guys in the paint. We got to make that pass to the side. We got to move it. We’re trying to go in there and challenge those guys, and we’re not getting any calls. It’s affecting us, because then you know, we’re down a person and they’re off running and getting fast breaks.”
Thomas wasn’t with the Celtics at Thursday’s practice, as he flew home to Washington state Wednesday to be with his family following the death of his 22-year-old sister, Chyna, in a car accident last weekend. Thomas was planning to fly back and rejoin the team later Thursday, coach Brad Stevens said.
Game 3 is Friday at 6 p.m. at the United Center, where the Celtics will look to return to their top form.
“For us, it’s just to make sure we do what is asked of us,” Horford said. “If coach is having me go set pick-and-rolls, I have to make sure that I get, that I’m able to get Isaiah open. If it calls for us to space so Isaiah has room to work with, that’s what we got to do. We just have to make sure we keep doing a good job of making the game easy for him. I look to make the game easy for everybody else.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.