Bulls

Jimmy Butler, Bulls steal game 1 in an emotional Boston Garden

Jimmy Butler, Bulls steal game 1 in an emotional Boston Garden

BOSTON — Having the best player on the floor can cure a lot of ills, and the playoffs have a way of showing who's not afraid of the moment.

Against the emotional backdrop of the tragedy surrounding the death of Isaiah Thomas' sister, a charged-up atmosphere was at a more fevered pitch in Game 1 of the Bulls' series with the Boston Celtics.

Big runs, big stops and big stops resulted in the Bulls stealing the opener with a 106-102 decision Sunday at TD Garden, with Bobby Portis aiding Jimmy Butler in a way not many thought was possible.

Portis finished off the Celtics with a midrange jumper to give him 19 points to go with his nine rebounds in his playoff debut, along with a big block over Jae Crowder on a basket cut a few minutes earlier when the Bulls first began to take late control.

With so many young players who are seeing the real bright lights for the first time, Portis stepping up wasn't predictable but he's never appeared to allow moments to be too big for him.

"He was one of our new young guys who I wasn't worried about," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He's gonna play with unbelievable confidence, he's gonna play with swagger. He's gonna lay it on the line. He was playing with such tenacity. He was hitting shots, we needed every one of them."

But the star of the night was none other than the apple of the Celtics' eye, Jimmy Butler.

Shaking off a passive first half, Butler scored 23 in the second half to finish with 30, going with nine rebounds and three assists. He caught fire to push a close game to a 95-88 lead with four minutes left.

"I think we were so locked in all week. We knew their stuff like they knew our stuff,"  Butler said. "We executed really well, we haven't done that all season but this is the right time to do it. And that's all you can do, especially on the road."

Hitting nine of 19 shots from the field after starting one for five, he and the Bulls weathered an early emotional storm authored by Thomas as Thomas played amid unspeakable grief.

"What did I see? The same thing he always does. He's such a tough kid, one of the hardest guards to cover in the game," Hoiberg said.

He scored 13 of his game-high 31 points in the first quarter but when directly defended by Butler in the last few minutes, he had a hard time finding space — which could mean doom for the Celtics if they can't get him loose in the last few minutes of close games.

"It's just a different look for him," said Bulls guard Dwyane Wade, a man who also saw some time chasing Thomas around. "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."

Butler took Thomas after Rajon Rondo picked up two fouls in succession, leading to an 88-87 Celtics lead with 5:41. From that moment, the Celtics mustered just one score and two free throws, while the Bulls went on a 12-4 run until the 1:17 mark to give themselves some breathing room.

Of course, since these are the Bulls, nothing comes easy. A nine-point lead with a minute left turned into danger time in the last 10 seconds, as a review went against them along with an offensive foul on Butler for freeing himself against Celtics irritant Marcus Smart.

But Butler hit two free throws with 3.3 seconds left as the Bulls had a two-point lead to finally close the door and sending the Bulls to the second road win in these NBA Playoffs.

He had help from Portis, who played like a lottery pick when Nikola Mirotic played with a scared rookie. Portis flexed after a big block on Jae Crowder and played the biggest game of his career in his playoff debut, scoring 17 with eight rebounds and hitting back to back triples in the third quarter when the Bulls were reeling.

They shook off a first half where they mustered just 38.5 percent shooting with 11 turnovers along with going two of 14 from the 3-point line.

Many times the Bulls were at their best when shots caromed waywardly off the rim and found its way to Robin Lopez, or Taj Gibson early in the season. Lopez and Portis were all over the glass as the Bulls were under 40 percent for most of the night, but the relentless attacking wound up in keeping the Bulls within striking distance as the Celtics couldn't get away in the first half.

"Obviously we knew that was an advantage of our going into the series, I think everybody did a great job of keying in on that aspect," said Lopez, who finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds in 34 minutes.

The Bulls dominated the boards overall with a 53-36 advantage, as 20 of those came on the offensive end with 23-15 advantage in second-chance points. Hoiberg made a critical decision when Rajon Rondo picked up his fifth foul guarding Thomas, subbing in Jerian Grant and moving Butler to Thomas. Grant had been one of eight from the field but hit a big triple from Butler to make it a 95-88 game with four minutes left.

From there the Bulls held on for dear life and suddenly have more than new life in their attempt to show this is not an ordinary 1-8 first-round matchup.

Bulls not a part of Anthony Davis-to-the-Lakers trade, but it could have an effect on the draft

Bulls not a part of Anthony Davis-to-the-Lakers trade, but it could have an effect on the draft

Farewell, Lonzo Ball-to-the-Bulls rumors.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Saturday evening that the Los Angeles Lakers have finally acquired Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, and the deal doesn't include a third team.

In exchange for Davis, a six-time All-Star about to enter his prime, the Pelicans recieved Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and three first round picks, including the No. 4 pick in next week's NBA Draft.

There was some speculation - also reported by Woj - that a third team would need to get involved in order to satisfy what Pelicans GM David Griffin was looking for in a package for Davis.

Though the Bulls were never directly connected in reports as a potential third team, it made sense considering they own the No. 7 pick and have a need at point guard.

There was also some speculation - though, again, never concrete news or reports - that Zach LaVine could have been an option in a deal, with the Bulls acquiring the No. 4 pick.

Alas, the Bulls aren't part of the deal. But it still may have an effect on them.

The Pelicans now own the Nos. 1 and 4 picks in next week's draft. They're obviously going to take Duke forward Zion Williamson with the first pick but now have options at No. 4. Whereas the Lakers had been linked to Vanderbilt poing guard Darius Garland, the Pelicans really don't have a need there with Ball and Jrue Holiday in the backcourt.

That, in theory, could bump Garland down to No. 6 and the Phoenix Suns, which would then free up the Bulls to take North Carolina's Coby White at No. 7.

Wojnarowski also reported that teams are still inquiring about the No. 4 pick from the Pelicans. It's unlikely the Bulls would depart with LaVine though maybe they could put together some sort of package to move up from No. 7.

What's more likely is the Bulls keep their assets intact in such a weak draft class and move forward with the best player available on the board at No. 7.

But it's officially Woj Bomb season, so buckle up. As is the case every NBA offseason, anything can and will happen.

NBC Sports Boston's Trade Bot comes up with Kris Dunn-Terry Rozier trade

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USA TODAY

NBC Sports Boston's Trade Bot comes up with Kris Dunn-Terry Rozier trade

The NBA landscape is getting ready to undergo a dramatic makeover this offseason, with the vast number of free agents and the volatility of the 2019 draft class. While the Bulls and Boston Celtics are two teams that could have much different views of success next season, they also could be ideal trade partners. Our partners at NBC Sports Boston laid out an intriguing trade offer that certainly got Celtics fans talking.

The NBC Sports Boston “Trade Bot 3000” came up with a scenario in which Danny Ainge targets Bulls guard Kris Dunn.

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This does not come as a huge shock, as GM Danny Ainge has had a liking for Dunn’s game dating back to the 2016 NBA Draft, when he reportedly almost traded then-Celtic Isaiah Thomas fior a lottery pick to select Dunn. Of course since then things have changed quite a bit, as Dunn has failed to develop into a real threat from the perimeter and his great defensive effort has been dragged down by foul troubles (4.3 fouls per 36 minutes).

NBC Sports Boston’s Trade Bot pointed out that Boston would be receiving the New London, Connecticut native with a full season before he is set to hit restricted free agency (2020-21). Dunn’s team-friendly contract would make sense for a Celtics team that is unlikely to have any functional cap space this offseason. And even in the event that the Celtics do create near max cap space, that would likely mean that guards Terry Rozier and Kyrie Irving are no longer on the roster.

Dunn would be a solid option as a starter or backup guard for a new-look Celtics squad that would be built around feeding Jayson Tatum plenty of looks, much more than the 13.1 field goal attempts per game that he averaged over the 2018-19 season. Dunn’s usage rate dropped a significant amount last season and his offensive rating improved as a result of him using less possessions. I would expect that trend to continue under Brad Stevens, who would find more creative ways to keep Dunn involved on offense.

It is simple to see how the trade would be appealing from the Bulls perspective. Though incredibly similar prospects, Rozier presents a greater threat from the 3-point line as compared to Dunn.

He is by no means a knockdown shooter, but the fact that “Scary Terry” has taken 6.3 attempts from 3-point range per 36 minutes (for his career per Basketball-Reference)  definitely matters.

Defenses will have to account for Rozier when he is on the floor, making him a nice partner for LaVine on the offensive end of the floor. But again, Rozier would not be a savior at the PG position. He has many of the same flaws as Dunn, such as generating a tremendously low amount of free throw attempts. As we all know, a fresh start can do wonders for a young player and a trade of this nature would allow the Bulls to add Rozier, while giving him the true maximum salary that only the Celtics would be able to offer.

To make matters even better for Chicago, the Bulls would be collecting a second round pick as well for swapping a player on a rookie deal for a player who is due for a significant raise. One last interesting nugget on a possible Dunn-for-Rozier trade is that the two guards are actually one day apart age-wise. They are at a similar stage in their careers/development, to the point where it would be tough to say which team won the trade.

Let us know how you would feel about NBC Sports Boston Trade Bot’s Dunn-for-Rozier swap at @BullsTalk!