Apr 16, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) goes to the basket past Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) and center Kelly Olynyk (41) during the third quarter in game one of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
The Chicago Bulls defeated the Boston Celtics 106-102 in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series. Here are a few takeaways from this contest.
The Chicago Bulls weren’t given much of a chance at beating the Boston Celtics coming into this playoff series and rightfully so.
After all, the Bulls finished the season with an underwhelming 41-41 record. They were maddeningly inconsistent, which meant that the team, nor its fan base, knew which group of players were going to show up for each game.
On top of that, this Celtics squad doesn’t feel that they are getting their due respect for finishing as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
“Nobody gives us our due,” Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas told ESPN. “We’re the No. 1 seed, and then they say we’re one of the worst No. 1 seeds. If anybody else was the No. 1 seed, it’d be like, ‘They might get to the Finals.’ It’s always something, but we try not to worry about that stuff and just try to take care of business on the court.”
But in spite of the Celtics perceived lack of respect from the outside world, along with all of the so-called expert predictions — including TNT Sports analyst Charles Barkley — who stated that the Bulls had no chance of winning Game 1 — the Bulls held on to beat the Celtics 106-102 to take the opening game of this best-of-seven series.
Apr 16, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez (8) shoots over Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) during the second quarter in game one of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Bulls Crush Celtics On The Glass
One of the key factors I mentioned for the Bulls coming into this series was winning the rebounding battle. In their two victories against the Celtics during the regular season, the Bulls out-rebounded their counterparts by an impressive 106-67 margin.
This effort led to a 40-9 advantage in second-chance points.
That trend was on display once again in Game 1. Thanks to a solid effort from Robin Lopez — who had 14 points to go along with 11 rebounds — the Bulls enjoyed a sizable 53-36 advantage on the glass (20 on the offensive end), which translated to a 23-15 edge in second-chance points.
While the Bulls were a .500 team during the regular season, one of the areas where they excelled was rebounding. In fact, they were the third-best team in this category, snatching up 46.3 boards per contest.
If they continue to dominate in this area, this series may have an ending that few would have expected.
Apr 16, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) gets a hug from guard Avery Bradley (0) after hitting a shot against the Chicago Bulls during the first quarter in game one of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Have To Tip Your Hat Off To Isaiah Thomas
Everything the Celtics like to do from an offensive standpoint centers around Isaiah Thomas. And being that he was their leading scorer with 28.9 points per game, it is easy to see why that is the case.
Taking this tragic turn of events into consideration, no one would have blamed Thomas for sitting this one out and choosing to be with his family during such a difficult time.
Instead, Thomas decided to play and he had a solid performance to say the least. In 38 minutes of action, he scored a game-high 31 points on 10-for-18 shooting from the field to go along with six assists and five rebounds.
It is also worth noting that Thomas attempted at many free throws as Jimmy Butler (12), and finished with a plus-12 rating — the highest mark of any player in a Celtics uniform.
While he had his struggles down the stretch (more on that later), the Celtics don’t come close to winning this game without their point guard who was playing with a heavy heart.
Apr 10, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Bobby Portis (5) reacts after making a basket against the Orlando Magic during the first half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Bobby Portis Proves He Can Be An X-Factor
After a respectable 2015-16 rookie campaign in which he averaged 7.0 points and 5.4 rebounds, Bobby Portis didn’t see the same amount of playing time this season due to solid play by Cristiano Felicio and the emergence of Paul Zipser.
Throughout what could have been a difficult season for the second-year forward, Portis continued to remain positive while waiting for the opportunity to prove that he in fact belonged in the Bulls’ rotation.
With Nikola Mirotic struggling to make an impact (four points on 1-for-9 shooting), Game 1 proved to be a coming-out party for Portis. In his first-ever playoff appearance, Portis rose to the occasion, scoring 19 points and pulling down nine rebounds in 29 minutes.
His stat line was significant for a couple of reasons: 1) There were only seven instances during the regular season in which Portis scored more than 14 points in a game and 2) Portis nearly outscored the Celtics reserves, who scored a total of just 22 points.
Apr 16, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) keeps the ball away from Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) during the fourth quarter of the Chicago Bulls 106-102 win over the Boston Celtics in game one of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
The Butler Does It Once Again
Although Jimmy Butler has been the subject of trade rumors over the last two years, he has gotten better every year he’s been in the league.
Not only does he lead the Bulls in points (23.9), steals (1.8) and minutes played (37) he is also second on the team in rebounds (6.2) and assists (5.4).
Having said that, if the Bulls had any hopes of knocking off the top-seeded Celtics, Butler would need to be at the top of his game.
That wasn’t the case early against the Celtics in Game 1, as the three-time All-Star converted just one of his first five shot attempts. But as he has done numerous instances during the season, Butler delivered when his team needed him the post.
After a sub-par first half, Butler bounced back to score 23 points in the game’s final 14 minutes, including 15 in the fourth quarter. When it was all said and done, Butler finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and three assists.
And thanks to a pair of clutch free throws, the Bulls managed to escape with a win despite nearly giving up a nine-point lead with 48 seconds left in regulation.
In addition to that, Butler more than held his own when he was tasked with guarding Thomas in the fourth quarter.
Oh, and to put Butler’s fourth-quarter outburst into its proper perspective, it should be noted that the only player in Bulls history to score more than Butler did in a road playoff game was none other than Michael Jordan, who lit up the Utah Jazz with 16 points in the fourth quarter Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals.
Considering that Butler managed to help carry the Bulls to victory without huge contributions from two members of the starting lineup (Dwyane Wade and Mirotic), this group has to be confident heading into Game 2.