Why It’s Not Surprising the Celtics Are the First No. 1 Seed to Open Playoffs 0-2 in 24 Years


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The No. 1 seeded Boston Celtics lost their second consecutive game to the Chicago Bulls to start their playoff campaign, becoming the first top seed to start the postseason so poorly since the 1983 Phoenix Suns.

Behind a throwback Rajon Rondo performance (11 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds, five steals), the Bulls buried the Celts 111-97 for a 2-0 lead that, upon closer examination shouldn't be all that surprising.

Why? Because the Celtics might be the worst No. 1 seed in NBA history, and because the Bulls, despite being not very good themselves, are a matchup nightmare for Boston.

The Celtics' Net Rating (which calculates a team's point differential per 100 possessions) of plus-3.1 is the worst ever since the 1978-79 Seattle SuperSonics. That classic '70s team, however, won the championship, and their low Net Rating for a championship-caliber team can be explained in part by a more balanced league—back then, every team in the SuperSonics' division had a positive Net Rating. This year, there are three Eastern Conference playoff teams who are in the negative. In their conference, Boston got to beat up on bottomfeeders like the New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Brooklyn Nets.

In short, the Celtics are more like a three seed that benefited greatly from the late struggles of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Beyond their weakness as a top seed, the Bulls are the last team they wanted to see in Round 1. Chicago isn't every very good—hell, it took the the league's worst team, the Nets, sitting their best players on the last day of the season to even get the Bulls into the playoffs. With the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks, they're one of the three East playoff teams with a negative Net Rating, joined in the West by the Portland Trail Blazers.

But the Bulls' one great strength—offensive rebounding—counteracts the Celtics' greatest weankess, the defensive glass. Boston finished the season with the fourth-worst defensive rebound rate in the NBA, and the second-worst among playoff teams.

Chicago, on the other hand, put up the fourth-best offensive rebound rate in the league in 2016-17, second-best among playoff teams.

Which explains why Robin Lopez has looked like Moses Malone through these first two games. In Game 1, the Bulls center collected eight rebounds on the offensive glass alone—more defensive boards than any Celtic grabbed, and as many rebounds as Boston's in-game leader had on both sides of the floor.

The team dropped quite the dump truck full of cash on Al Horford this offseason, but his finesse, shooting-oriented game has yet to solve the team's rebounding problem, and unless something changes fast, they'll be clubbed on the glass all the way to another early playoff exit.