Jimmy Butler's 39 points lead Bulls past Pelicans

Jimmy Butler's 39 points lead Bulls past Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jimmy Butler defied any inclination to give in to fatigue, and the rest of the Chicago Bulls followed suit with the kind of performance that left little doubt about their desire to make the playoffs.

Taking the court on the Gulf Coast one night after a narrow victory on the shores of Lake Michigan, Butler poured in 39 points to lead Chicago to a 117-110 win over the recently resurgent New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday.

"I just want to win. I think my will to do that is going to overcome all the fatigue," Butler said. "At this time of the year, everybody's tired, everybody's nicked up. But when you have mental toughness, you overcome all that."

Butler made 14 of 26 shots, including all three of his 3-point shots, to help the Bulls win for the fifth time in six games. The All-Star guard's final points came on a step-back jumper with 20 seconds left to stem a late Pelicans run.

Chicago took sole possession of seventh in the Eastern Conference after beating a Pelicans squad that came in having won eight of 11 and six straight at home.

Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg marveled at the way Butler was "just shooting from all over the floor, the rhythm that he had going ... just rising up and shooting it like there is nobody else in the gym."

"It was a great performance to get us going, get us a nice lead at halftime, and hold out down the stretch."

Butler hit nine of his first 11 shots and it didn't seem to matter who guarded him. He made everything from a short step-back fade over the 6-foot-11 Davis to decisive mid-range jumpers coming off of screens and a pair of 3s in the first half, when he had 25 points.

"He made some tough shots, shots off one leg, turnarounds, contested," said Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, who had 30 points and 11 rebounds. "I think they played a little harder than us and it showed with the offensive rebounds, with the 50-50 balls."

Bobby Portis, who finished with 21 points, hit six of his first seven shots. His and Butler's accuracy helped Chicago shoot nearly 57 percent during the first half. The Bulls led by as many as 19 in the second quarter before going into the halftime up 63-47.

Chicago still led by 13 with less than three minutes left, but New Orleans quickly got as close as six when Davis' jumper capped a 7-0 run that began with Jrue Holiday's 3.

However, New Orleans missed a chance to get closer when Paul Zipser blocked Holiday's transition layup with 36 seconds left. Butler then drained his final basket, a 20-footer over Holiday from the right side, to help the Bulls close it out comfortably.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg criticizes refs for not calling carries on Celtics' Isaiah Thomas

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg criticizes refs for not calling carries on Celtics' Isaiah Thomas

Fred Hoiberg wasn't pleased with the officials on Sunday.

Following the Bulls' 104-95 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 4, the Bulls head coach criticized the refs for not calling carries on Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas.

"He had a hell of a game tonight, but when you're allowed discontiue your dribble on every possession, he is impossible to guard," Hoiberg said of Thomas. "He is impossible to guard when you're able to put your hand underneath the ball and take two or three steps and put it back down. It's impossoble to guard him in those situations."

After hearing those comments, Thomas said that he can't recall at any point this entire season where he was called for a carry.

"I've been dribbling that way my whole life," Thomas said. "I don't know what to say to that."

Thomas finished the game with 33 points and seven assists in 35 minutes played, leading his team to even up the series at 2-2.

Bulls comeback falls flat as Celtics tie series at 2-2

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USA TODAY

Bulls comeback falls flat as Celtics tie series at 2-2

By the numbers it looks like the series has gone to form but it certainly feels like the Bulls lost more than control of it with their 104-95 loss to the Celtics at the United Center Sunday evening.

The series is tied at two games apiece but it certainly has the feel of a Celtics advantage, and not just because they have two of the last three games in their building in a series that hasn't seen a home team win a game.

It looks as if the Celtics have figured the Bulls out, taken their best shot and delivered some serious blows of their own, in the form of a 5-foot-9 dynamo who produced a signature moment of his own when his team needed him desperately.

If Isaiah Thomas isn't the best player in this series, he was certainly the freshest star when it counted, spearheading a 15-2 run to finish the third quarter when the Bulls made a resounding comeback to look as if they would ride a wave of emotion to an improbable 3-1 lead.

Thomas scored or assisted on the next 20 Celtic points, getting into the lane at will along with finding shooters and buckets inside, the biggest stretch of his 33-point night, as he added nine assists on 10 of 21 shooting and hitting 12 of his 13 free throws.

It didn't matter that the Bulls missed a grand opportunity to exploit one of the most vulnerable defensive players in the league in Thomas, as they refused to attack him after he picked up his fourth foul early in the third.

He kept attacking the Bulls, jumping on the expressway known as the Bulls' paint and finishing multiple times against taller defenders to restore order and press the lead back to 10 at the end of the third.

The Bulls were gassed after coming back from a 20-point deficit, with Jimmy Butler literally doing everything on his way to a 33-point night with nine assists and five rebounds. After a game where he didn't go to the foul line at all, he took every bump and every bruise on his way to 23 free throws.

Nikola Mirotic and Isaiah Canaan scored 13 with Dwyane Wade adding 11, but it was Wade's missed fast break layup that resulted in an Al Horford 3-point play after a dunk that made it 92-80, ending a relatively serious Bulls' threat.

Horford scored 15 with 12 rebounds while Brad Stevens' adjustment from Game 3, Gerald Green, scored all 18 of his points in the first half, helping the Celtics take control as they again gouged the Bulls from the 3-point line in the opening moments—starting with Thomas' patience against an aggressive Bulls defense.

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The game was an instant replay early, with the Celtics jumping out to an 11-4 lead and methodically increasing it throughout. Hoiberg gave his struggling point guards another chance, but Grant and Carter-Williams were again not up to task, with Hoiberg pulling them in favor for Isaiah Canaan.

Canaan hasn't played meaningful minutes in months and certainly has been little more than an afterthought since early April but provided a spark in 33 minutes, being a plus-20 and at least bothering Thomas on defense.

Canaan took a charge on Thomas and then hit a triple, bringing the deficit to five midway through the period. The Bulls took their first lead with a Robin Lopez duck-in hook shot at 65-63 before Thomas sliced inside for two layups on consecutive possessions.

Lopez began picking away at the Celtics on the glass, but only played 22 minutes as Hoiberg opted to go away from him and switch to a smaller lineup. It was a tactic that backfired, as the Bulls lost their advantage in paint scoring with each scoring 48 after the Bulls had dominated that department in their first two wins.

Among many things the Bulls tried, competing was their best counter and it'll have to be that in spades from here—because it looks like the Celtics have all the big faces, even if it's in a small package.