Butler serves up late Bulls run to shock Celtics

Chicago forward Jimmy Butler going to the basket past Boston guard Marcus Smart and centre Kelly Olynyk in the Bulls 106-102 win at Boston's TD Garden.
Chicago forward Jimmy Butler going to the basket past Boston guard Marcus Smart and centre Kelly Olynyk in the Bulls 106-102 win at Boston's TD Garden.PHOTO: REUTERS

BOSTON • Flustered through the first three quarters, Jimmy Butler produced a breakout final period that was enough to carry the Chicago Bulls past the top-seeded Boston Celtics in the opener of their National Basketball Association first-round Eastern Conference play-off series.

He 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 they held on to beat the Celtics 106-102 on Sunday.

"We were so locked in all week," said Butler, who also pulled down nine rebounds as the Bulls capitalised 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.

He 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 lay-up with 71/2 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 the 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 jeopardise your transition defence 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 play-off 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 tonight in Boston.

In Washington, John Wall had 32 points and 14 assists as the Washington Wizards controlled the second half against the Atlanta Hawks for a 114-107 win on Sunday, to take the lead in the best-of-seven first- round Eastern Conference series.

Bradley Beal scored 22 points and Markieff Morris had 21 points for the Wizards, who finished the regular season 49-33 and entered the play-offs as the No. 4 seed after not qualifying last year.

Dennis Schroder scored 25 points and Paul Millsap had 19 for the Hawks, who made 32 of 39 free throws, but only shot 43.6 per cent from the field and committed 21 turnovers.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2017, with the headline 'Butler serves up late Bulls run to shock Celtics'. Print Edition | Subscribe