Tied 2-2, Bulls-Celtics series just got very personal

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Forget the adage that it’s not a playoff series until the road team wins.

That’s out the window for the Bulls and Boston Celtics.

It’s not truly a playoff series for these teams until things get personal.

On Sunday, things got personal.

The Celtics continued to take full advantage of life without Bulls veteran point guard Rajon Rondo, winning a second consecutive game at the United Center and tying the Eastern Conference first-round -series 2-2.

But after the 104-95 victory by the Celtics, the series took on an entirely new look.

First, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg set himself up for a possible fine by criticizing the officials for allowing Celtics All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas, who finished with 33 points and took over the game, to carry the ball “on every possession.’’

“Let me say this: Isaiah Thomas is a hell of a player, an unbelievable competitor,’’ Hoiberg said. “But when you’re allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession … when you’re able to put your hand under the ball and take two or three steps and put it back down, it’s impossible to guard him in those situations.’’

Hoiberg was asked if he has talked to the officials about it. He said they told him they would watch for it. Yet, it continues.

Asked if that call is ever made in the NBA, Hoiberg said, “It’s a great question. They talk about it every year being a point of emphasis. It should be called.’’

Then Hoiberg raised his voice in anger and said, “I’m not going to talk about it anymore.’’

That wasn’t the only time a voice was raised in anger.

Midway through the second quarter, Jimmy Butler and Celtics reserve Marcus Smart got into it and had to be restrained. After the game Butler (33 points) did his best to put Smart in his place.

“[Smart’s] a great actor, acting tough, that’s what he does, but I don’t think he’s about that,’’ Butler said. “I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. I’m not the one for that.’’

Asked if it was the first time Smart had stepped toward him, Butler replied, “Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life, so calm it down.’’

What couldn’t be calmed down was the anxiety that was starting to build without Rondo (fractured right thumb). Hoiberg couldn’t find a point guard to run the team as effectively as Rondo did in the first two games, both Bulls victories.

He tried Jerian Grant, then Michael Carter-Williams and finally settled on seldom-used Isaiah Canaan, who actually did a solid job of trying to slow Thomas.

Coincidentally, Derrick Rose was courtside to watch all the problems his former team was having at the position, which was another example of just how poorly the front office has handled that position, from scouting to player acquisition.

It’s a problem that likely won’t be cleared up heading into Game 5.

Then again, Thomas didn’t seem to care whom Hoiberg puts on him or that the coach believes he’s carrying the ball.

“That’s not the reason I’m an impossible cover,’’ Thomas said. “I guess [Hoiberg’s] just going to keep saying it, but I’ve been dribbling that way my whole life, so I don’t know what to say about that.

“Not one man can guard me. That’s just the confidence I have.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com


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