Jimmy Butler’s second half asserted him as the best player in this series

It was a tale of two halves for Jimmy Butler Sunday evening. In his return to postseason basketball, and his first game as the undisputed engine of the offense, Jimmy Butler took some time to find his stride.

Jimmy scored just five points in the first half. After connecting on a jump shot on the opening play of the game, Butler would not make another field goal until he put back a missed Dwyane Wade layup with 27 seconds left in the second quarter. Jimmy attempted just six field goals overall in the half, passive to a fault as his teammates struggled to hit shots.

Even though Butler shot just 33% in the half, the shot quality and the pace with which he moved with the ball were indications that he was prone for a big finish in the game. When he was running pick and roll, Butler went right at the Celtics big men before Boston could send additional help. One of his misses was a catch and shoot three that would have had a better chance of going in had the pass been accurate.

Butler was decisive when he shot. He resisted the urge to survey the court after catching the ball, preventing the Celtics defenders from digging into position to stop him.

Butler missed his first three shots of the second half, but all three shots were positive looks. Twice he was able to get past Crowder and just missed shots in the paint, and the third was a pick and pop jumper from the baseline. Again, all three shots were fast, within the flow of the offense, in situations where Butler was either open or had forced a switch from the defense.

Finally, with 1:28 left in the third quarter, Butler snapped into assassin mode. He took a dribble hand-off from Rondo in semi transition and rose up for a three over Jae Crowder. With 33 seconds left, the Bulls put Jalen Brown and Kelly Olynyk into a pick and roll and Butler waltzed to the rim, finishing with a smooth finger roll while avoiding Marcus Smart’s attempt to take a charge. He closed the quarter with a deeeeep three pointer.

Butler continued his smooth jump shooting in the fourth quarter, knocking down a pair of jumpers off the catch. And then, with under a minute left in the game, Jimmy was finally rewarded for his aggression driving to the hoop. Butler was isolated on Jae Crowder and flashed a quick first step to blow by his college teammate, flew to the rim before Horford could rotate and kissed a layup off the glass to give the Bulls a nine point lead.

Butler finished the game with 30 points. He shot 9/19 from the field and an impressive 3/5 from three. Despite a slow start, Butler stuck with his process and was rewarded. I was truly impressed with the speed at which he processed the game on offense, which will be crucial if he is going to have success against Boston’s excellent group of perimeter defenders.

It will be interesting to see how the Celtics adjust their defensive strategy for the rest of the series. Jimmy was fearless attacking the Boston big men when they “iced” the pick and roll. He picked up a head of steam and attacked whoever was in front of him. None of Horford, Johnson, Olynyk or Zeller are good shot blockers, and Jimmy was able to get pretty clean looks whenever he wanted. Going forward, I expect Stevens to instruct his big men to hedge or trap when Jimmy dribbles around a screen to prevent him from picking up speed and forcing him to pass and rely on his teammates to score.

Before Game 1, I didn’t give the Bulls any chance to advance past the Celtics. But after Jimmy Butler clearly asserted himself as the best player in the series, the Bulls upset chances are alive and well.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports


The Boston Celtics battled all season to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers and finish with the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed. Then they lost their corresponding home-court advantage in the first playoff series in one game.

The Chicago Bulls went on the road to TD Garden on Sunday and stole Game 1 in a 106-102 victory.

As for Boston, an emotional Isaiah Thomas spearheaded the home team's effort with 33 points, six assists and five rebounds, but it ultimately wasn't enough—even though his team cut a seven-point deficit to two with less than 20 seconds remaining before Butler's two free throws iced it.

Butler and the Bigs Outshine Celtics' Big Three

Avery Bradley played suffocating defense on Butler at times, but the Bulls star woke up down the stretch in the third quarter and carried his team to victory in the fourth. He also guarded Thomas on multiple possessions in crunch time, demonstrating his ability to impact the game on both ends.

It wasn't Dwyane Wade but the big-man combination of Robin Lopez and Bobby Portis that provided the most support for Butler. Lopez notched a double-double and set the tone on the boards from the opening quarter, while Portis was the team's second-leading scorer at 19 points.

Even with Wade's struggles, Butler, Lopez and Portis counterbalanced the effort from Thomas, Al Horford (19 points, eight assists and seven rebounds) and Bradley (14 points and three steals).      

Isaiah Thomas Impresses Through Tragedy

He responded in admirable fashion and poured in 13 first-quarter points to stake his team to a five-point advantage.

Still, the Celtics had trouble scoring without him when he was on the bench for stretches. He did create some much-needed offense in the second half when he sliced his way through Chicago's defense on multiple occasions, but Butler slowed him in the waning moments.

The Celtics finished 27th in the league in rebounds per game this season, while the Bulls were third. The difference was on full display Sunday.

Chicago finished with 53 rebounds to Boston's 36, and 20 of them came on the offensive end. The Celtics couldn't handle Lopez especially, as the Stanford product posted eight offensive boards.

It also helped the Bulls overcome their glaring weakness from behind the three-point line. They were a mere 24th in the league in three-point percentage this season and shot 8-of-25 from deep Sunday.

Still, the poor shooting ultimately didn't cost the visitors thanks largely to Boston's inability to rebound.

5 Bulls Things: Now do the Celtics believe they need Jimmy Butler?

Five things about Game 1 of Bulls-Celtics:

1. When we last saw Jimmy Butler in the postseason, he was part of that miserable fourth quarter of Game 6 against the Cavs two years ago.

Remember that? Derrick Rose wasn’t interested in taking over in an elimination game, and so, Butler called for the ball. Bad stuff happened. The Bulls went home. Tom Thibodeau was fired. Rose eventually would be traded.

The Bulls would become Butler’s team. That’s what we heard. That’s what he told us. That’s what he showed us after a season of missing the playoffs.

And so, here we were, Game 1 of Bulls-Celtics, Butler’s first chance to show he’s the alpha of Bulls' alphas in the playoffs.

So, what did he show?

Not much early. Not much good, anyway. It looked like a continuation of misery from his last postseason experience. He missed seven of his first 10 shots.

Butler, you’ll recall, was the best player in the series coming in. He was expected to be the best player coming down the stretch. That’s when stars define themselves.

With a minute to go in the third quarter, Butler hit a two. Then he hit a three. Tie game.

Butler went on to hit six of his last nine shots, and in the fourth quarter, the alpha of alphas’ quarter, he scored 15 points and punished the Celtics for fouling him.

With four minutes to go, he was fouled beyond the arc and hit all three free throws to put the Bulls up by seven. Then, in the final 20 seconds, Butler went four-for-four from the line to clinch it for the visitors.

Like that, Butler would finish with 30 points and nine rebounds. What's more, he guarded Isaiah Thomas down the stretch and did a nice job of keeping the ball out of the Celtics star's hands in leading the Bulls to the upset win.

A good opening game for Butler. A good opening statement in renewed trade negotiations with the Celtics.

2. The Celtics are all about Thomas. The 5-foot-9 guard has to do everything, and he has been spectacular doing it, but nobody wins an NBA title with just one star, especially a point guard. Did they not see the Bulls with Rose?

Yeah, the Bulls are all about Butler, but that’s why they’re an eighth seed that should’ve been in the lottery. That’s where teams with one star surface.

Even with that fact established, however, the Bulls ended up with more options than the higher-seeded Celtics.

Look at this, for example: Dwyane Wade, who can’t jump anymore, and four guys who had no playoff credibility went on a 10-0 run to give the Bulls a lead against the Celtics bench in the second quarter. That’s what happens when the Celtics take Thomas is off the floor.

It’s stunning to think the Celtics watched this all season – bad rebounding, vulnerability to second-chance points, lack of a second weapon if Thomas doesn’t have the ball -- and decided they didn’t need Butler at the trade deadline to make both their starting lineup and bench better.

3. Coach Brad Stevens said the Celtics had been talking about rebounding all week, and then they got torched on the boards 53-36. Good talk.

4. Bobby Portis, your table is ready.

In the Bulls' continuing confounding season, Portis came off the bench to sink eight of 10 shots, three of four from three, for 19 points to go along with nine rebounds and two blocks. There’s your starting power forward, people.

But no. Fred Hoiberg said no, Nikola Mirotic would not go to the bench to start Game 2. Is that the coach’s decision because he still has three years left on a contract or is that the GM talking because he’s trying to prop up whatever faint trade value remains?

Either way, it’s a bad decision. Portis deserves to start the next game over Mirotic, who made just one of nine shots and missed all five attempts from beyond the arc.

Scary as it might sound, Mirotic is a huge part of the Bulls game. If he can make shots, he opens up the floor. Maybe he can make shots against the Celtics subs. It’s worth a try after the Bulls failed to trade Mirotic between his sixth and seventh misses.

5. TNT analyst Kevin McHale said there was a feeling the Bulls underachieved because some thought they were a “50-win team.’’ Kevin, buddy, pal, you and those people need to put the bong down.

5a. The Bulls had just taken a 33-28 lead in the second quarter thanks to the bench, and then Thomas and Avery Bradley came back.

And then the Bulls’ possessions went like this: Wade miss, Rajon Rondo miss, 24-second violation, Christiano Felicio turnover, Wade turnover, Paul Zipser turnover, Rondo miss.

Portis finally hit a basket to put the Bulls up by two.

In that time, however, Amir Johnson missed four shots and the Celtics committed a turnover of their own. Amazing how the Bulls can drag a No. 1 seed down to their level of ineptitude.

5b. How many times did the ball end up in Rondo’s hands at the end of the shot clock? Just throw the ball out of bounds and save the team’s shooting percentage next time.

5c. If the Celtics intend to prove they aren’t the weakest No. 1 seed in years, then they really ought start proving otherwise quickly.

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