On Patriot’s Day weekend with the Boston Marathon coming up and Boston celebrating the opening victories in the American Revolution, the Bulls revolutionized this first round playoff series in a 106-102 victory.
The Bulls, though, had to sweat out almost giving up a nine-point lead in the last 70 seconds when Boston pressured the Bulls in the last moments. Two critical Jimmy Butler free throws with 3.3 seconds left finally gave the Bulls the victory.
The Bulls lead the series 1-0.
Butler had 30 points and nine rebounds for the Bulls with Bobby Portis coming up clutch off the bench with 19 points and nine rebounds. Robin Lopez was big inside with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Rajon Rondo had 12 points and Dwyane Wade had 11. The Bulls dominated on the boards behind Lopez’s aggressive play, especially on the offensive boards.
Isaiah Thomas had 33 points for Boston.
Game 2 is in Boston Tuesday.
Not unexpectedly given the emotion of the moment, Thomas led the Celtics early with 13 points in the first nine minutes as Boston took a 25-21 lead. Again, it was turnovers that were troublesome for the Bulls as the Celtics surged ahead 12-6 with back to back threes after turnovers to send the Bulls into their first timeout to quiet the raucous arena. Butler were fearless driving and being disruptive, and it was Lopez keeping the Bulls in the game with his offensive rebounding and follow scores. He had 10 points and six rebounds in the first quarter. Unable to control Thomas, the Bulls switched Butler onto Thomas with three minutes left and at that 25-21 Boston lead. The Celtics led 28-23 after one quarter and were more effective than usual on the boards with a dozen in the quarter. The Bulls reserves shot a combined one of seven in the quarter and overall the Bulls were zero for nine on threes. Then with Wade orchestrating the second unit, the Bulls moved on top early in the second quarter. Portis was crucial running a fast break finish to Cristiano Felicio and making a three for a 33-28 Bulls lead with 8:41 left in the first half. Thomas returned with Avery Bradley’s shooting propelling the Celtics back to 33-33. Portis then had a putback on a Rondo miss for a score as the Bulls edged ahead 37-33 with 5:18 left in the half. The lead see-sawed as the Celtics tied the game at 37 and 39. The Bulls moved ahead 41-39, but lost a chance to extend that when Wade came up short on a fast break dunk attempt. But Wade came right back with a three-pointer. The Bulls then let a rebound squirt away with a second left for an Al Horford, but the Bulls still led 48-46 at halftime despite shooting two of 14 on threes.
The Bulls tried to get Mirotic going after a zero for five shooting first half and he did finish a nice two on one with Wade for a dunk, but could not get his shot to go. Still, the teams traded baskets and hared defense back and forth, the Celtics falling behind by three and then getting a three-point play from Amir Johnson and the Bulls ahead 58-56 midway through the third on a Rondo rebound and finish. The Bulls then failed to control Thomas, who either forced switches on the pick and roll or passed out with a Marcus Smart three sending the Bulls into a timeout with 2:53 left after Boston pulled ahead 69-64. Thomas’ back to back three-point plays were crucial in that 9-4 Boston run. And then it became 12 minutes for the game as Butler scored the last five Bulls points of the third on a drive and three to tie the game at 74 going into the fourth quarter. Butler came out to start the fourth continuing with a jumper and handed off to Wade as the reserves fought it out to open the final period with a Portis three putting the Bulls back on top 81-80 with 8:44 left. Boston took an 88-87 lead with 5:33 left on three Thomas free throws. The Bulls then got a big three from Jerian Grant and Butler fouled on a three for a 95-88 lead. Back came the Celtics behind Thomas, but with 2:41 left after a Portis block on Jae Crowder, the Bulls were hanging onto a 97-92 lead. With 1:41 left on two Lopez free throws the Bulls led 99-92 after an exchange of turnovers with a Grant steal stopping a Celtics’ fast break. Portis made yet another crucial jumper with 1:18 left for a 101-92 Bulls lead.