BOSTON — On an emotional Sunday night at TD Garden, the Boston Celtics fell to the Chicago Bulls 106-102 in Game 1 of their first-round NBA playoff series.
Playing with a heavy heart, Isaiah Thomas turned in an impressive performance and led the Celtics with 33 points. Al Horford arguably played his best game for Boston this season, scoring 19 points to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds.
But Jimmy Butler was the story Sunday night. The All-Star guard paced the Bulls with 30 points and was exceptionally strong in the second half.
With the loss, the Celtics fall to an 0-1 series deficit.
Here’s how it all went down.
PG: Isaiah Thomas
SG: Avery Bradley
SF: Jae Crowder
PF: Amir Johnson
C: Al Horford
Emotions were running high at TD Garden following the tragic loss of Isaiah Thomas’ 22-year-old sister on Saturday. Head coach Brad Stevens told reporters before the game that the star point guard was hurting heading into Game 1, but the team was fully supporting Thomas and his family.
Not only did Thomas have the support of his team, but also the city of Boston. During player introductions, Celtics fans gave Thomas a raucous ovation.
THOMAS LEADS CHARGE
Considering the circumstances, no one knew what to expect from Thomas in Sunday’s game. Well, the All-Star point guard played with his heart on his sleeve and paced the Celtics in a high-energy first quarter that featured a 28-23 Boston lead heading into the second frame.
Celtics fans are used to incredible 3-pointers from Thomas at this point, but his first bucket from beyond the arc held a little more meaning Sunday night, as evidenced by the eruption from the TD Garden crowd.
Thomas led all scorers after the first quarter with 13 points, while Robin Lopez posted the high for the Bulls with 10. Chicago was plagued by poor 3-point shooting to start the contest, as it was 0-for-9 from beyond the arc in the first frame.
C’s STRUGGLE IN SECOND
After a strong first quarter, the Celtics started off mighty slow in the second frame and didn’t score their first basket until a Bradley 3-pointer at the 8:16 mark. The Bulls took full advantage of Boston’s poor start, as they went on a 10-0 run in that period.
The two teams would play mediocre basketball for the remainder of the quarter, which ended with the Bulls holding a 48-46 lead heading into the break. Chicago was able to grab the lead largely in part due its domination on the glass. The Bulls recorded 32 first-half rebounds, while the Celtics only grabbed 20.
The deficit could have been larger had it not been for Horford. The big man recorded nine points in the second quarter to go along with three rebounds and two assists. No other Celtic scored more than three points in the frame.
DEADLOCKED AFTER THREE
The two teams played back-and-forth basketball for the duration of the third quarter, which resulted in a 74-74 tie score entering the final 12 minutes. After a quiet second quarter, Thomas responded in the third with two high-energy and-1’s which brought the home crowd to its feet.
Butler was the man for the Bulls in the third quarter as he logged eight points in the frame, including a deep 3-pointer in the waning moments that evened the score.
BULLS TAKE OVER LATE
The Bulls held a four-point lead with a little more than six minutes remaining, but a monster dunk from Horford and three Thomas foul shots gave the Celtics an 88-87 lead with 5:33 remaining.
The Bulls would counter, though, and followed with a bucket from Butler and a 3-pointer from Jerian Grant to push their lead back to four. On the ensuing Bulls possession with under four minutes remaining, Butler was fouled shooting a 3-pointer and would proceed to sink all three free throws, giving Chicago a seven-point advantage, its largest of the game.
The Bulls would maintain a comfortable lead for much of the quarter, but the Celtics made it interesting with late 3-pointers from Thomas and Jae Crowder. They would get as close as two points thanks to a Thomas bucket with seven seconds remaining, but clutch free throws from Butler sent the Bulls home with the win.
PLAY OF THE GAME
A silky smooth step-back from Horford.
The Celtics and Bulls will battle in Game 2 on Tuesday night. Tip-off from TD Garden is set for 8 p.m. ET.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images