Jimmy Butler was having an OK three quarters but figured that won’t be enough. That’s when he decided to take matters into his own hands.
Butler scored 15 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, including five during an 8-0 run midway through the period that put Chicago in control, and the Bulls held on to beat the Celtics 106-102 Sunday night.
“We were so locked in all week,” said Butler, who also pulled down nine rebounds as the Bulls capitalized on their size advantage and controlled the inside. “We knew their stuff just like they knew ours, but we executed extremely well. We haven’t done that all season, but this is the right time to do it. Everybody stepped up and did what was asked of them.”
Chicago prevailed on an emotional night in Boston, as Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas played the day after his younger sister, Chyna, was killed in a car crash. Thomas played through tears with “RIP Lil Sis” written in tribute on his shoes. He paced Boston with 33 points.
“He was incredible. He’s an amazing player and an amazing person,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “The days won’t get easier for him, but he somehow plays like that.”
Thomas led a last-gasp effort for the Celtics, hitting a layup with 7.5 seconds left to cut Chicago’s lead to 104-102, but Butler dribbled off a few seconds and sealed it with a pair of free throws with 3.3 seconds to go.
Butler scored 23 points in the second half and finished with nine rebounds as the Bulls dominated the boards, ending up with a 53-36 advantage. The Bulls controlled inside throughout the game and forced the Celtics into shooting from the outside, where the shots stopped falling in the fourth quarter.
Chicago also pulled down 20 offensive rebounds and converted 23 second-chance points to Boston’s 15.
“It’s something we’ve done a pretty solid job of all season long,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “The big thing is crashing the glass, but you can’t jeopardize your transition defense because these guys will make you pay if they get behind you.”
Bobby Portis scored 19 points off the bench, and Robin Lopez had 14 points and pulled down 11 rebounds for Chicago. Rajon Rondo added 12 points and Dwyane Wade scored 11 in his first playoff game for the Bulls.
“We don’t have home-court advantage, so we had to get one here if we want to win this series,” Wade said. “I think we did everything we wanted tonight.”
Game 2 is Tuesday night in Boston.
It was unclear Sunday whether Thomas would play Tuesday or if he would return to Washington state to be with his family. Stevens said Thomas has the Celtics’ support in whatever he decides.