The Celtics stole the No. 1 seed in the East thanks to three straight victories to close the season and a weird meltdown by the Cavaliers, while the Bulls sneaked into the playoffs in the eighth and final spot thanks to a tremendous season by Jimmy Butler. No one is expecting them to reach the NBA Finals - let alone win it, but at the same time the season will be viewed as a disappointment if they can not at least reach the Eastern Conference Finals. "This team has always been one that has played as good as they needed to play, which is always scary", he said. "So that's a real positive".
"We do have a plan in place, but obviously you have to adjust if things are going in the wrong direction, but we do have a plan on how we are going to try to slow [Thomas] down a little bit, which is obviously hard to do with the number [three] scorer in the National Basketball Association this year, " Hoiberg said. The last time the Celtics made it out of the first round was in 2012.
Not only will the three-time All-Star be set loose on guarding Boston's biggest scoring threat in point guard Isaiah Thomas, but he's looking forward to it. The Celtics built a huge lead, as much as 27, and then saw it dip into single digits multiple times in the fourth quarter, ultimately pulling the game out, but continuing to show question marks with their ability to play a complete game.
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Those numbers may wind up being an afterthought if the Cavs can consistently summon the effort that allowed them to romp the Celtics 114-91 on April 5 at TD Garden, but they're worth keeping in mind as the postseason gets underway. That helps him fall asleep at night when he can't stop seeing Dwyane Wade's face or hear Rajon Rondo's voice late at night. That's no small feat for a guy who came off the bench for Boston just two seasons ago.
That led to Crowder bracing himself by not totally falling, and then tossing the ball into the chest of Butler which led to a number of other players exchanging words. And to that, the Bulls' superstar says: Bring it on.
"I think it's going to be a tough series", Wade said. "But not just me".
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The team can not afford to lose Thomas, but these five players are also essential to the team's playoff hopes and must play big to go deep into the playoffs. The 6-7 Butler just also happens to be the Bulls' best defender, and not afraid to try and shut down any player on the planet. Now it's a little bit more of a spread dynamic.
"When I played on the 1986 Celtics and when we were around the 2008 Celtics - two championship teams that were better than this team today, of course - those teams struggled in the first round". Doing it in a best-of-seven series might wear him down. I'm going to get beat at times, I'm going to need guys to be there. But it's a safe bet Butler won't draw the assignment for that long. "But when somebody comes out of nowhere and hits you with 20 or 30 points, now what?"
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Westbrook just stuck to his "why not?" attitude and may have turned in the best single season a player has ever had. But Butler overcame a united Garden crowd and led Chicago to the victory, scoring 23 points in the second half.