Charles Barkley said right before tip-off on Inside the NBA that there was absolutely no way the Bulls could win this game tonight.
Round Mound be damned, because Chicago wasn’t interested in Chuck’s narrative. The Bulls arrived in Boston for the NBA Playoffs and stole Game 1 on Easter Sunday from the Celtics by a final score of 106-102 in a contest that saw inspired ball from both team’s superstars. Isaiah Thomas played valiantly in the wake of family tragedy, but Jimmy Butler proved to be the Bulls’ equalizer and Chicago got just enough of a lift from their bench and offensive rebounding to push them over the top when all was said and done.
The Bulls started off this game fairly well before an 8-0 mini-run for the Celtics vaulted the home team into an early eight point lead. The run occurred via two Isaiah Thomas freethrows off of a three shot foul and two transition threes from Avery Bradley. Three point shooting would become the hot topic for the remainder of the quarter, as the Celtics went on to hit five of their twelve attempts (41.7%) while the Bulls proceeded to miss all nine of their own (although one was a full court shot at the end of the period).
The saving grace of Chicago in the first quarter proved to be Robin Lopez, whom finished the opening 12 minutes with 10 points and six rebounds, five of which came on the offensive end. Were it not for Lopez feasting on putback attempts off of long misses, the Bulls would have fallen into a massive hole early on, especially because Isaiah Thomas proceeded to pour in 13 points over his first 11 minutes. Thankfully, the Bulls finished the first down only 28-23.
Though the break didn’t help the Bulls refocus their 3-PT shooting much (they missed two more attempts before Bobby Portis finally rattled their first make home about three minutes into the period), the Bulls’ offense looked far better coming out to start the second quarter. Fred Hoiberg trotted out an all-reserve squad other than Dwyane Wade in the opening minutes, and they proceeded to rip off a 10-2 run to give the Bulls back the lead. Immediately after that, the Bulls committed five turnovers on five consecutive possessions, but similarly sloppy offensive play from the Celtics allowed the Bulls to remain in front.
Offensive rebounding played a critical role for the remainder of the half, not just for Robin Lopez, but actually both teams. The Celtics finished the opening 24 minutes with eight of their own, although two came on the final possession but also allowed Al Horford to knock in a three as a the clock expired. Conversely, the Bulls finished with sixteen offensive rebounds for the half, seven of which came from Robin Lopez and three of which came from Jimmy Butler. The stellar effort on the offensive glass allowed the Bulls to enter the locker room with a 32-20 total rebounding advantage as well as a 30-16 advantage on points in the paint. As a result, Chicago finished the half with a 48-46 lead over Boston.
The third quarter was an ugly affair for both teams up until the final two minutes. Nikola Mirotic continued to shoot poorly and eventually got yanked out of the game a little over halfway through the period after making only one shot on nine attempts up to that point. Dwyane Wade became the only Bull other than Bobby Portis to hit a three pointer until the final two minutes of the quarter, as the rest of the team missed a total of thirteen attempts from distance to that point. The Bulls also got snake-bitten by two terrible back-to-back continuation jumpshot and-1 foul calls in favor of Isaiah Thomas, although the refs were fairly terrible calling the game both ways.
But then Jimmy Butler turned it on for the final two minutes of the period and proceeded to score eight straight points for the Bulls. Six of those points came on two threes, and his three on the team’s final possession came from waaaaayyyy downtown:
Kelly Olynyk missed a three of his own as time expired, and both teams entered the final quarter of play tied 74-74.
The fourth quarter opened with Jimmy Butler continuing his hot shooting, but the real offensive hero for the Bulls (that I have wrongfully neglected to mention up to this point) was Bobby Portis. Portis proceeded to knock in two huge threes to add to his point total of 17 on 7-9 shooting prior to the final six minutes of the contest. Butler also added a three of his own, and after starting the game 0-11 behind the arc, the Bulls had rallied to knock in seven of their next thirteen attempts.
With a little under six minutes remaining, Isaiah Thomas drew a three-shot foul and made all of the freethrows to give the Celtics back the lead, but Jimmy Butler responded promptly with a turnaround jumper to put the Bulls back in front. The Bulls never relinquished the lead from then on—though it got uncomfortably close in the final minute of the game thanks to one of the most laughable replay reviews of the season. Anyway, Butler hit several key shots and freethrows down the stretch, and both Wade and Portis chipped in a timely basket each to keep the Bulls in front for the remainder of the game. When it was all said and done, Chicago emerged victorius to the tune of a 106-102 final score.
Jimmy Butler finished with 30 points on 9-19 shooting to go along with nine rebounds and three assists (though he also had five turnovers). Neither Wade nor Rajon Rondo shot well from the field but both combined to finish with 12 assists, 12 rebounds, and four steals. However, the hero of the game had to be Bobby Portis, whom finished with 19 points on 8-10 shooting (3-4 from distance), nine rebounds, three assists, and two huge blocks. Portis looked completely unintimidated by the moment and played with great decisiveness on both ends of the court, setting the tone for a bench unit that all finished with double-digit positive +/- ratings other than Zipser (and even he had +6). The Bulls’ bench outscored that of the Celtics 35-21 despite Hoiberg only rolling out four reserve players to Brad Stevens’ six. For the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas finished with 33 points on 10-18 shooting playing with a heavy heart in the wake of his sister’s death.
This win verifies what many expected: both teams are in for a competitive series. The Bulls didn’t even play particularly well for extended stretches of the game (mainly the first and third quarters) but still found a way to manufacture a win. Regardless, this is definitely a victory Chicago should be proud of, and the Bulls now have homecourt advantage in spite of whatever may happen in the next contest. Boston certainly isn’t out of this series by any stretch of the imagination, but this has to be a fairly concerning loss to open their playoff run.
Game 2 will tip-off at 7:00 PM this Tuesday on TNT.