In unknown territory, Jimmy Butler confident in Bulls: 'I like our chances'

In unknown territory, Jimmy Butler confident in Bulls: 'I like our chances'

Unknown territory, these Chicago Bulls are in, hours away from taking on a Boston Celtics team in Game 2 of their playoff series.

They didn't have to look further than the stands of TD Garden to realize it as they entered for the morning shootaround, seeing every seat in the building covered in green T-shirts.

Even the Bulls do it themselves with the "red-out" campaigns they've done during the playoffs in years' past, and now facing a desperate team that can't afford to fall behind 0-2, the leaders are as curious as anyone to see how this team responds.

"As a young team, that's what we have to figure out," said Dwyane Wade, who scored 11 in Game 1 Sunday. "They're going to come out with more energy, hungrier and better than they were in Game 1. And we have to be able to withstand all of it."

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Wade has been part of emotional atmospheres in the Garden, but he knows he can only tell some of his teammates about it as opposed to them being able to truly feel what he means.

And with the Bulls coming with a surprising win in Game 1, the natural tendency is to let the guard down knowing you've got the split. There could come a point where the Celtics are making an emotional run and the Bulls have to make a decision to compete or concede.

"I don't know. All this is new territory for this team," Wade said. "We're not going to know how we respond until we get on the floor. But you try to prepare the same way as you did. The hardest thing as humans, and especially is athletes, is trying to keep the edge."

Jimmy Butler nodded when asked if a win or even a similar performance to Game 1 can turn some heads, but even he hates the narrative about the Bulls making believers of a fan base and skeptical media.

"You're asking me, I don't care what anybody thinks. I know what we're capable of," Butler said.

But when prodded that some of the doubts came from within the locker room during some rough stretches, he said the tone has changed.

"Like I said, that was back then. Early months, early days. Now we're in this thing. We're like this," Butler said, making a fist. "We're fine. We go out there and play hard, guard, make everything tough for everybody, we'll be fine. We get away from that, that's when things get out of hand. We don't plan for that to happen. Everybody's locked in, ready to go. I like our chances."

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.

Derrick Rose sits courtside at Bulls-Celtics Game 4, receives standing ovation from United Center crowd

Derrick Rose sits courtside at Bulls-Celtics Game 4, receives standing ovation from United Center crowd

Derrick Rose was back in familiar territory on Sunday.

The former Bulls All-Star sat courtside with his son P.J. at the United Center to watch his former team take on the Boston Celtics in Game 4, despite arriving fashionably late at halftime.

Rose was shown on the big screen during a TV timeout, and received a standing ovation from the Chicago faithful:

If only he could suit up with Rajon Rondo out.