The #TNTBulls streak is alive thanks to the Chicago Bulls 104-103 win over the Boston Celtics. But the streak came very close to being broken, and it took a controversial call from the referees in the last seconds of the game the helped Chicago take the lead and win. It was some nervy offensive possessions for the Bulls but they were able to pull it off.
With Dwyane Wade out once again, everyone knew the ball was going in Jimmy Butler’s hands during both of Chicago’s last-minute offensive possessions. Given Avery Bradley’s absence, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens opted to put the next best perimeter defender on Butler in Marcus Smart. That was a smart choice given that Smart is third on the Celtics in terms of defensive box plus/minus (DBPM) at 0.3. He got the best of Butler on the first time they matched up in crunch time.
Marcus Smart comes up with a HUGE steal and the @celtics have the 103-102 lead & the ball with 28.3 seconds left in the 4Q! pic.twitter.com/Zxlu8MWShF— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 17, 2017
The above play was after a timeout, where Stevens swapped out Isaiah Thomas for Amir Johnson and put out a better defensive lineup that could basically switch on any pick and roll action. A pick and roll is exactly what the Bulls ran. It was Taj Gibson, guarded by Al Horford, who went and set a pick. Smart, however, was able to maneuver himself and shed the pick by Gibson and with Horford sagging off into the paint, it looked like Butler was running straight into a double team in the lane. With Gibson open at the three-point line, Butler tried to make the smart play and pass it off to him. Yet when he attempted the pass he was stripped by Smart, who was right on his hip (literally). It was a very crazy Bulls possession with this play coming off a missed three by Jerian Grant and it ended in Chicago’s first turnover of the half.
But that wasn’t as wacky as the next time Chicago got the ball with around 8 seconds left.
Smart fouls Jimmy Butler on the final shot & Butler makes both free throws to give @chicagobulls the 104-103 lead w/ 0.9 seconds pic.twitter.com/Aa0WORC7Dh— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 17, 2017
This time, Chicago wasn’t messing around and they went straight Butler isolation. The game came down to Butler vs. Smart. One on one and let the best man win. It seemed like Butler was holding the ball for an eternity when he decided to go with just under 3 seconds left though the Bulls were down one. He went right and then spun into a jump shot. The problem was that Smart was backtracking the whole time and didn’t back off on the spin move, rendering it useless because no space was created. It ended up being a tough jump shot from Butler, and a good contest from Smart, which hit front rim. But there was a shooting foul called on Smart which was a very tough call to make. Especially in the last two minutes of the game.
Was it a foul? Yes, considering that the replay showed Smart making contact with Butler’s elbow as he was shooting the ball. But once again, this is a very tough call to make in the final possessions of a close game.
Side note about Butler waiting so long to start moving in the final possession. Hoiberg said that was Jimmy’s call, and here was Jimmy’s explanation:
Jimmy Butler says he took clock down so late on final possession because he believes he's going to make every shot he takes.— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) February 17, 2017
Can’t blame the man for being confident.
Chicago smacks Boston on the glass
The biggest weakness of the Celtics is their inability to rebound the ball and limit second chance opportunities for their opponents. They rank third to last in the NBA in terms of rebounds per game at 41.3. That deficiency reared it’s ugly head in this game as Chicago absolutely dominated Boston on the glass, out rebounding the Celtics 51-31. Taj Gibson led the way for Chicago with 8 rebounds and Robin Lopez pitched in 8 as well, with 5 of them coming on the glass.
That advantage certainly helped the Bulls in the final moments when they grabbed some key rebounds to keep possession.
Bobby Portis explodes and Nikola Mirotic disappeared
In terms of the bench production, it was an odd night. Particularly because Bobby Portis had a pretty decent game, pitching in a season high 19 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. He was still a -2 for the game in terms of +/-, but Portis had his best game of the season and flashed some of that potential of playing at a level people expect out of a late first round pick. He won’t be a star in any way, but if Portis wants to show that he still deserves to play minutes in the NBA, tonight was a good start.
Meanwhile, even though Mirotic was cleared from the injury report for tonight’s game, he was a DNP-CD.
The Bulls have benched Mirotic earlier this season, but this time it may mean that this was the last time we see Niko in a Bulls uniform.