BOSTON — For a good part of Sunday’s game, it looked as though Jimmy Butler wasn’t going to be much of a factor in Game 1 at TD Garden, as the Boston Celtics — primarily Avery Bradley — limited the Chicago Bulls guard to just seven first-half points.
Butler’s inactivity would be short-lived, though, as the All-Star forward erupted for 23 second-half points and led the Bulls to an impressive road victory. He also brought down nine rebounds and dished out three assists.
Butler undeniably is the Bulls’ best player, and he might just be the best player featured in this series. The 27-year-old guard knows his role on the team, which he explained after the game.
“The coaches tell me to be aggressive, shoot the ball and I did just that,” Butler said. “I think that’s what my team needs for me to do, just make sure we get shots up.”
Butler was matched offensively by Isaiah Thomas, who posted the game’s high with 33 points. With the Bulls struggling to contain the Celtics guard, Chicago head coach Fred Hoiberg opted to have Butler defend Thomas for much of the second half, which helped the Bulls pick up the victory.
“Jimmy is obviously our best defender,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy is going to have his turn to guard him (Thomas).”
Being guarded by Butler obviously was a test for Thomas, as the Bulls guard is one of the best on-ball defenders in basketball. Butler’s tenacious defense noticeably affected Thomas’ pace in the second half, which Dwyane Wade reflected on after the game.
“It’s just a different look for him (Thomas),” Wade said. “Isaiah, obviously, he scored more than 30 points, he’s a handful on the floor. It’s just mixing up, giving him different looks with different guys. If it takes two or three seconds away from their offense, it takes the ball a little further out, then we won that battle. So that’s all we’re trying to do, just mess up the timing a little bit.”
The Bulls dominated the Celtics on the glass, posting a 53-36 rebound advantage. Chicago’s success on the boards ignited its offense, which allowed Butler to get into a rhythm. Though Butler struggled early on, Boston head coach Brad Stevens knew it was only a matter of time before he got it going.
“They just put him (Butler) in a variety of different positions that put you in a tough spot to maintain your matchup,” Stevens said. “And then he got going making some tough, contested shots. So that’s one of the things about it. It’s one of the reasons why you can’t not rebound for a full game, because he’s going to get on a roll at some point. Now, hopefully, you can break that rhythm and make it tough as possible, but he’s not going to miss shots all game. He got in that rhythm and that really hurt us.”
The Celtics are hoping Butler won’t hurt them as badly in Tuesday night’s Game 2.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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