The dream opening was turning into a nightmare as the ball rolled out to Dwyane Wade in the corner with the shot clock headed toward danger zone and the Bulls already living there for the last several minutes.
Three seconds later, Wade was signaling to the United Center crowd that it was okay to exhale after a contested, step-back triple over Avery Bradley with 26.3 seconds left, giving the Bulls a five-point lead in their season-opening 105-99 win over the Boston Celtics Thursday night.
“I saw Jimmy (Butler) going to the basket, I saw he was gonna make the pass but they stripped it and it rolled right to me,” Wade said. “It was like the perfect storm.”
After the clinching thunder clap, Wade strutted up the floor and gave a throat-slashing sign that will likely earn him a trip to the Principal’s office—but he’ll take the fine as long as it comes with the result.
“When I released it, I ain’t gonna say I knew it was going in because anything can happen but I felt very good about the shot,” Wade said. “It was a moment where a lot of emotion ran through me.
“I was excited, man. It’s opening night. It’s my first game back home and to be able to make a shot like that to help us get that win, yes I was very excited.”
Moments later, he trailed Gerald Green down the sideline before the ensuing inbounds pass, telling the Celtic some things he certainly didn’t want to hear before stripping Green of his 3-point attempt and knocking it off Green’s hands to stymie Boston’s last best chance at keeping itself in the game.
It was a small reminder that just in case the Chicago Cubs need some help in the ninth inning Friday night, The Closer can step into the phone booth and save the day as Wade the defensive play capped off his night with 22 points, six rebounds and five assists.
“Gerald, that’s my guy, we played together in Miami last year,” Wade said to CSNChicago.com after the win. “Rondo and Butler wanted me to help off and he knew it, so he started talking back after I said something. I told him he wasn’t gonna get that shot off.”
Green proved Wade’s words to be prophetic as he performed yet another magical act in 32 minutes of run, on a night that began with him on his knees as he was introduced to the crowd for the first time in a game that mattered—in front of his parents, family and friends, an event three decades in the making.
“I took that moment in the introduction, I’ve been waiting on that moment for a long time,” Wade said. “It was special for my family. They’ve been waiting just as long. I took the opportunity to thank God to be here. To have this career that I have, to make this decision on my own. I just took in a moment and then, it was game time.”
[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
Wasting no time, Wade hit three triples in the first half—nearly halfway to last year’s season total (seven)—as the Bulls jumped out to a 15-point lead.
“Just tweaking a couple things and not redoing (his shot),” said Bulls coach and de-facto shot doctor Fred Hoiberg. “He’s bought into it. And for a guy that’s been in the league as long as he has, that says a lot about him that he’s willing to work and add an element to his game.”
Wade, Butler and Rondo were a big reason why the Bulls shot a surprising 44 percent from long range, which masked their overall bad shooting night of 39 percent compared to the Celtics making half of their 76 attempts.
Butler led the Bulls with 24 points and seven rebounds in 36 minutes, as the night began with a bang but nearly fizzled after the Bulls blew a 15-point lead—with the Celtics threatening to ruin a festive and hopeful atmosphere.
Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas lived up to his namesake, nearly becoming a Bulls’ killer with 25 points on just 15 shots, carrying the Celtics’ offense as it rallied to take advantage of a stagnant Bulls’ showing before Wade saved the night.
The Celtics methodically got themselves together in the third quarter, as Thomas’ triple gave them a 69-68 lead with less than five minutes to play. Bradley scored 16 and Jae Crowder scored 14 for the Celtics, as they held Al Horford to just 11 with seven rebounds in 30 minutes.
Taj Gibson and Michael Carter-Williams took turns charging up the Bulls’ offense, particularly Gibson with his 18 points and 10 rebounds in 27 minutes.
The Bulls had an outsized rebounding advantage, 55-36 with seven players grabbing six rebounds or more to help Gibson and Robin Lopez, with the 18 offensive rebounds leading to more margins for error.
“We know in order for us to make the game so much easier, everybody has to touch the ball, everybody has to have that chance of being guarded,” Butler said. “As long as you move it, it’s probably gonna end up coming to you for a better shot.”
Butler wished the statistician would’ve awarded him with his fourth assist on Wade’s big jumper but isn’t complaining too much.
“He’s done it his entire career, this is just another year for him. I’m just happy he’s doing it for the Chicago Bulls.”
And for the first time, Chicago can cheer its hometown son without conflict.
Minutes before they opened their regular season Thursday against the Celtics, the Bulls announced the signing of shooting guard R.J. Hunter.
Hunter was a first-round pick of the Celtics in 2015 but was waived this preseason. In his lone year with the Celtics he appeared in 38 games. He struggled from the field, shooting just 36.7 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from deep. He ultimately lost out on a roster spot this preseason in a crowded Celtics backcourt.
"Not surprised he got picked up," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said. "We said the other day, we had more than 15 NBA players (in training camp) and so it was just a matter of time who he was going to get picked up by. It was good that he did."
Fred Hoiberg was asked at Thursday morning's shootaround about the possibility of adding a player like Hunter. And while he couldn't specifically mention Hunter - as the deal was not official - he did discuss the continued need for outside shooting.
"It’s something that obviously we feel that we’ve got some shooting with this team but you can never have enough, so I’ll say that," Hoiberg said. It’s something where if we can get our playmakers in the paint to be able to spray it out to guys that can spread the floor, that’s obviously something that can help our team.
"So again we feel good about where we are with our playmakers and if we can get some guys to knock down shots I think we have a chance to have an effective year."
Hunter was the darling of the 2015 NCAA Tournament playing for his father at Georgia State. Hunter hit a game-winning 3-pointer against Baylor to propel the 14th-seeded Panthers to an opening-round win.
Hunter was a two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year, averaging 19.7 points per game as a junior.
Hunter's first chance to suit up with the Bulls will be Saturday when they host the Indiana Pacers.