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.