Dwyane Wade had to chuckle at himself when the notion of him taking a leading role could be needed to complete an improbable start to the Bulls’ first-round series with the Celtics.
One of the reasons Chicago was so attractive to Wade was the presence of Jimmy Butler, who’s certainly cemented himself as a top 10-15 player this season. So Wade is more than content letting Butler have his turn in the spotlight—but he’s also had his share of closing moments this season, such as his 11-point fourth quarter in Game 2 where he turned off the lights at TD Garden with walk-down 3-pointers.
“I’m a supporting man,” Wade said. “I want to be up for an Oscar in my supporting role. Jimmy’s the leader. He’s the lead actor here. Myself, Rondo and all those guys -- it’s our job to support him. When it’s time in these playoffs for me to lead, I’ve done it my whole life.”
One could argue Wade has been one of the best leading men in NBA history before ceding some spotlight to LeBron James in Cleveland. Wade wasn’t shy about making the comparison of Butler’s responsibilities in this series to James’ in Miami, where Wade also mastered the art of being a supporting actor.
With the Bulls up 2-0, Wade has taken yet another half-step back to allow Rajon Rondo to emerge and Butler has been his usual brilliant self. He knows a time will be called for him to do more, but he won’t answer until he’s called.
“I’m not saying I’m gonna always come through, but I enjoy the moment when it’s time for me to make (plays). Some nights, it won’t be. You’ve got to do other things. But the other night, it was an opportunity to make some shots, get the ball in the areas that I like. ... That’s a comfort in our team knowing that we have guys that can do it, especially Jimmy.”
Make no mistake, though, two games don’t determine a series, even if the Bulls have outplayed the Celtics for the most part of 96 minutes on the road and being the first team since the first round moved to the best of seven format to take a 2-0 lead as an eighth seed.
“You’re not thinking you’re gonna go in Boston and get two,” Butler said. “You’re just trying to get one. That’s your focus. But once you got that one, now it’s just another game. Now, you’ve got to try and get the next one. But coming in, I didn’t say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna be up 2-0 on Boston.’ No, no one thought that. But we are in this position. We’ve earned it.”
And earning the right to have a 2-0 lead with two games at home on a spring weekend in Chicago brings about a different kind of pressure, one would think. The Bulls haven’t won five games in a row all season so a win Friday night would not only break that trend but put a stronghold on the series not many thought possible before it began.
Even if many saw the Celtics as a perfect opponent for the Bulls, expecting them to take a 3-0 lead would be seen as farfetched given the 82-game sample size presented from October to April.
“We anticipate Boston coming out, it's one of the best road teams in the league, it's been a very resilient team all year,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We have to continue to go out and play for each other. I know our guys aren't satisfied, they've got to continue to bring it and I'm confident our guys will.”
Only the Celtics and Toronto Raptors have winning records on the road this season (each at 23-18), and Isaiah Thomas rejoined the Celtics in Chicago after spending time with his family in Seattle following the unexpected death of his sister over the weekend.
The Celtics are hoping the change of scenery brings about some extra toughness, considering the way the Bulls have beat them up on the boards, led by Robin Lopez playing keep-away from Al Horford.
Considering the way the Bulls have outmuscled the Celtics, Wade is expecting a different brand of basketball this weekend and his team had better be ready.
“Just when you’re down you make a few adjustments, whether it’s your lineup, your coverages. You try to do things a little different than you did,” Wade said. “They’re gonna play a physical game. As the series goes on you start disliking guys a little more, game gets a little more physical, it’ll be the hardest game we’ve played to date. Gotta be prepared for that.”
And if Wade is called upon to step forward, his understated sentiments aside, he feels he has more than enough to make a difference.