clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Bulls lost Game 3 because Jimmy Butler wasn't the best player on the floor

New, comments

If the Bulls are going to beat Boston, they need Butler at his best. He wasn’t that in Game 3.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

After two games of being the best player on the floor, Jimmy Butler was not that in Game 3. The Chicago star played one of his worst playoff games ever, and that was enough to determine the outcome against the Boston Celtics.

Butler’s 14 points on 7-of-21 shooting and game-worst minus-27 might undersell just how good he was for Chicago’s first two games, where the Bulls took a surprising two game lead over the Eastern Conference’s top seed. It was the first time a No. 1 seed dropped the first two games to a No. 8 seed since 1993, but in that series, the Phoenix Suns actually ending up moving on, beating the Los Angeles Lakers. Boston is hoping to do the same, and its 104-87 win on Friday put the Celtics closer to that goal.

There’s a number of subplots you can point to, and Rajon Rondo’s absence was no doubt a big one. But the Bulls live and die with Butler, and the absence of his normal impact swung the game. After eight assists in Game 2, he recorded none in Game 3. Chicago’s offense languished overall.

Avery Bradley deserves tons of credit for that — his defense was obnoxious against Butler all night, and that’s exactly what you want from a top perimeter defender like him. (There’s a constant debate about how Bradley’s defensive metrics don’t match up with his much more positive eye test defensively, but regardless of where you fall on that debate, we’re hard pressed to say anything too bad about Bradley after this Game 3 outcome.) In fact, almost mirroring Butler’s game-worst plus-minus was Bradley with a plus-22, trailing only Jae Crowder’s plus-23. Using plus-minus for a single game isn’t always the most reliable stat, but it seemed pretty clear what was happening on Friday.

Chicago is still absolutely in position to take this series. The Bulls lead 2-1 with two of the four games that potentially remain slated to be played in Chicago. They’ve won twice in Boston, so there’s no danger that they can’t take a game at The Garden. Rondo’s absence is difficult, because the Bulls clearly struggled moving the ball offensively in Game 3. But should Butler return to form in Game 4, so should the offense.

Having the best player on the floor is one of the ultimate ways to swing a playoff series. Butler had an off night, but now the Bulls need him to get back there.