Jimmy Butler Thursday proved again he’s all star. The Bulls starting All-Star in Sunday’s NBA All-Star game made two free throws with nine tenths of a second left in the game for the Bulls to defeat the Boston Celtics 104-103.
Butler was fouled, a call the Celtics hotly disputed and lingered after the game to stare down the officials, by Marcus Smart going for a game winner with 8.4 seconds left in the game after Michael Carter-Williams hauled in an Isaiah Thomas miss. Butler ran down the clock and took the shot, the foul called. He made the two free throws for the final margin and Al Horford missed a last shot.
Butler led the Bulls with 29 points. Bobby Portis had 19 and Robin Lopez 15. Taj Gibson had 12 and Doug McDermott 11. The Bulls overcame 14 Boston three pointers wit a 51-31 rebounding margin that included 15 offensive rebounds. Thomas had 29 for Boston.
The NBA now takes a week off for All-Star break. The Bulls moved to 28-29. The Celtics are 37-20.
The Bulls were without Dwyane Wade, who was ill, and Paul Zipser with the lingering ankle injury. Nikola Mirotic was available after having back spasms, but Portis went into his role as first big man off the bench and had a sterling first half with 13 points, 11 in the second quarter. The Bulls also were riding an unusual streak of having won 16 consecutive home games when they were playing Thursday’s on TNT. The Bulls, however, fell into a deficit early, trailing 17-9 against Amir Johnson’s scoring. Johnson had riddled the Bulls with unusual three-point shooting in an earlier season Bull loss to the streaking Celtics, now second in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls gathered behind their first quarter big man, Lopez, who had nine points in the quarter. The Celtics led just 25-22 after one quarter. McDermott made a pair of shots to open the second quarter and with Portis gave the Bulls a 31-30 lead before Boston ran off seven straight to retake the lead. Rajon Rondo with six rebounds and five assists gave the Bulls some speed in the second quarter before he had to leave late in the first half with a sprained ankle. Portis did knock down back to back corner jumpers to fight back from a 48-38 Celtics lead. Butler, playing with no restrictions after his heel injury, finally began to find the range with eight straight points and a pair of banked jumpers as he finished with 15 in the first quarter. But the elusive Thomas blew by Bulls defenders for a pair of late threes that gave the Celtics a 58-52 halftime lead. The Bulls had a massive 11-0 advantage on second chance points, but Boston shot 54 percent and was 10 of 21 on threes. The Bulls were two of 12 on threes in the half.
The Bulls started the second half effectively as Jerian Grant made a pair of threes and the Bulls edged ahead 69-65. The Bulls also continued to dominate in second chance points thanks to Lopez, finishing an 11-3 run for a 75-68 lead. But the Bulls offense slowed badly in the half court while the Celtics sent the Bulls into a timeout after two driving layups without much resistance. It was 75-72 Bulls with just over two minutes left as coach Fred Hoiberg went back to Portis for energy. He responded with a pair of scores and the Bulls went into the fourth quarter leading 81-78. The pace slowed in the fourth as the teams began going to their main players, the Bulls to Butler and Celtics to Thomas. Butler delivered a three for an 88-84 Bulls lead with 8:47 left, and then Thomas set a Celtics record for most 20-point games in a season and pushed Boston ahead 97-94 with a three. The Bulls continued to ride Portis down the stretch with his season high scoring game and with just under three minutes left, Taj Gibson put the Bulls ahead 98-97 with a pair of free throws. The Celtics tried to deny Butler with a constant trap while Butler was defending Thomas. Thomas kept driving and scoring or being fouled before Butler finally blocked one from behind and got the ball for the Bulls trailing 103-102 with 50.3 seconds left in the game. But Marcus Smart made a big block on Butler’s drive to get the ball back for Boston with 28.3 seconds left after a Grant missed three for the lead.