Four days is all that separated the Chicago Bulls sneaking past the Miami Heat for the final place in the 2017 NBA Playoffs and defeating the first-placed Boston Celtics in game 1 of the playoffs.
In a way, this spectrum of events encapsulates everything the Bulls have been this season: a mediocre squad needing all 82 games to secure a playoff berth before inexplicably taking down a team who won 12 more games during the regular season.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the Bulls found a way to win a road playoff game against a superior opponent. It’s typical Bulls, and they did it in typical Bulls fashion; dominating the glass, playing strong defense and letting their lead guard carry the offense home.
Jimmy Butler was instrumental in the win, scoring 23 of his team-high 30 points in the second half. Unable to prevent Butler from scoring in isolation sets, the Celtics had no answer for Butler once he found his rhythm on his jump shot. Jae Crowder was unable to stay in front of Butler. Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart were too small to contain the Bulls superstar as he rose for a long jumper.
While Butler finished off the Celtics, it was the Bulls front-line that kept the team close in the first half. Despite shooting 37.3 percent from the field and 14.2 percent from three, the Bulls took a two point lead into the main break thanks in large part to Robin Lopez.
Bludgeoning the Celtics big men on the offensive glass, Lopez was dominant through the first half, carrying the Bulls with 12 points and eight rebounds — seven of which that were on the offensive end. Lopez finished the game with eight offensive rebounds, leading the Bulls to a 17 rebound advantage.
- Bobby Portis had arguably his best as a professional, posting 19 points, 9 rebounds and a team-high +12. Portis’ performance was particularly timely, as Nikola Mirotic struggled mightily to influence the game, making only one field goal in 19 minutes of play. Post game, coach Fred Hoiberg insisted no change will be made to the starting lineup for game 2, however, watching this game with no prior information, Portis certainly looked like the more poised and reliable power forward option.
- The Bulls will need more from Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo moving forward. Neither player shot above 40 percent from the field and failed to provide any positives defensively. Whilst both combined for 13 rebounds and 12 assists, the Bulls will need more scoring and play-making creation from their veteran guards to support Jimmy Butler.
- Fred Hoiberg appeared to settle into a nine-man rotation during the Bulls’ final regular season game against the Brooklyn Nets, and it was on show in game. Jerian Grant, Paul Zipser, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio were the only reserves to play for the Bulls. Notably, all played their role, helping the Bulls outscore the Celtics by 10 points at the beginning of the second quarter.
- The framework of how the Bulls must play to defeat the Celtics has been set. Replicating a dominant rebounding performance will be critical. The Celtics will come with several adjustments, but the Bulls still have the best player in the series. That may be enough for the Bulls to sneak away from Boston with another upset win before the series heads to Chicago for games 3 and 4.