If the Bulls are going to push the Celtics to a Game 7 with a win tonight at the United Center, it’ll have to be under the most improbable of circumstances.
Jimmy Butler is banged up and finally, the Bulls are admitting it as he has a sore left knee he suffered from a collision in Game 4 that has affected him in Game 5. And point guard Rajon Rondo will not be making a miraculous comeback to lead the troops in some made-for-TV moment.
Butler took just two shots in the fourth quarter in Game 5, clearly favoring his left knee, the knee he jumps off of, limiting an offensive game that relies a lot on explosion and contact.
“Jimmy, he’s gonna battle. One thing you know about Jimmy, he’s as well conditioned as anybody in the game,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s as big a competitor as anybody in the game. He does have soreness, no denying that. He’s gonna continue to go out there and do everything he has.”
After bumping and bruising his way to 23 free-throw attempts in Game 4, Butler took just one free throw in Boston two days ago — the greatest indicator of how this injury is affecting his game.
Hoiberg said Butler didn’t do much in the morning shootaround, and it seems the best method could be using him as a decoy if the Celtics still treat him as a player capable of scoring 30.
“He’s still gonna have the ball in his hands a lot,” Hoiberg said. “Tried to give him the ball with the side cleared, and let him go to work. I thought he drew the defense and got us a couple quality looks, we just didn’t knock it down.”
With Rondo, while he’s improving and has a track record of playing through injuries, it appears his broken right thumb isn’t healing at the rate it needs to for him to be on the floor and contribute without risking further damage.
“Not much. Pretty much the same,” Hoiberg said. “He’s still got a lot of soreness in that right hand, especially with everything he’s got with the torn ligament and also the broken thumb. Not able to do enough at this point.”
So without their best player and their most indispensible, the Bulls are facing an uphill task against a Celtics team that made the Bulls lose a little poise in a critical juncture of Game 5, and will try to push all the buttons again.
And it means more will fall on Dwyane Wade’s experienced shoulders in the meantime, and he believes Butler can be effective even while limited.
“My approach is going to be the same as it was last game — just try to be aggressive. And try to find other opportunities to find a way that Jimmy can still lead,” Wade said. “He’s just a little banged up. It’s fine. It’s the NBA. Jimmy is a tough guy. We have to find different ways to make sure he’s involved.”
For the rest of the roster, Wade believes finding a way to continue their season appears to be a matter of opportunity instead of panic, with the urgency being the best teacher.
“There definitely should be,” Wade said. “This is a big game for our season. It seems like every playoff game, the cliché thing to say is, ‘Oh, this is the biggest game of our season.’ But it rings true tonight. I think it’s a good thing for this young team to be in this situation now just to see how we respond.”