BOSTON — Jimmy Butler scored 15 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, including five during an 8-0 run midway through the final period that put Chicago in control, and the Bulls held on to beat the Boston Celtics 106-102 Sunday night in the opener of a first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.
Chicago prevailed on an emotional night in Boston, as Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas played the day after his younger sister, Chyna, was killed in a car crash. Thomas played through tears with “RIP Lil Sis” written in tribute on his shoes. He paced Boston with 33 points.
Thomas led a last-gasp effort for the Celtics, hitting a layup with 7.5 seconds left to cut Chicago’s lead to 104-102, but Butler dribbled off a few seconds and sealed it with a pair of free throws with 3.3 seconds to go.
Butler scored 23 in the second half and finished with nine rebounds as the Bulls dominated the boards, ending up with a 53-36 advantage. The Bulls controlled inside throughout the game and forced the Celtics into shooting from the outside, where the shots stopped falling in the fourth quarter.
Bobby Portis scored 19 off the bench, and Robin Lopez had 14 points and pulled down 11 rebounds for Chicago. Rajon Rondo added 12 points and Dwyane Wade scored 11 in his first playoff game for the Bulls.
Game 2 is Tuesday night in Boston.
Al Horford had 19 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, and Avery Bradley scored 14 for Boston. The Celtics could not overcome Chicago’s size advantage inside and in the end, even Thomas wasn’t enough to carry the Celtics down the stretch.
For a while, it was shaping up to be an emotional triumph for the grieving Thomas, who drew a foul by Rondo on a 3-pointer and made all three foul shots to put Boston up 88-87 with 5:33 left to play. But Boston wasn’t back on top for long.
Butler hit a jumper, the Bulls forced the Celtics into a shot-clock violation and Chicago got a 3-pointer at the other end from Jerian Grant. Boston missed another outside shot and the Bulls capitalized again, with Butler drawing a foul on a 3-pointer and making all three from the line with four minutes remaining.
The 95-87 lead was the largest of the game for either team and was just enough for Chicago to hang on and take the opener.
NOTES: The Celtics held a moment of silence in memory of Chyna Thomas before the national anthem. … Celtics G Isaiah Thomas was the last player introduced in the starting lineups and received a thunderous welcome from the Boston fans. … Former Boston G Rajon Rondo also received a loud greeting, only it was boos from fans who remembered his tumultuous years with the Celtics from 2006-14. … The Celtics and Bulls are meeting for the fifth time in the playoffs — all five series coming in the opening round. Boston won the previous four playoff series against Chicago, the most recent in 2009.