Is Jimmy Butler the man in Bulls-Celtics series? We’ll find out
BOSTON — Look, I can’t say I left no stone unturned while trying to find someone — anyone — who’s picking the Bulls to beat the Celtics in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
But I rummaged through the predictions of experts from various national outlets — CBS Sports, ESPN, USA Today and others — and a few notable blogs and stopped only when it began to feel silly to keep checking. That moment came as I read a 16th consecutive forecast of a Celtics victory, compared with zero leaps of faith in the Bulls.
‘‘The Bulls have plenty of talent and experience,’’ one of the Boston believers wrote, ‘‘but as we’ve seen all year, they can’t be trusted to bring any sort of consistency.’’
‘‘It’s a foregone conclusion [the Celtics will win],’’ another wrote. ‘‘I was more concerned about the Heat, and they didn’t even make the playoffs.’’
You see what I’m talking about? No faith. No respect. No chance.
By the way, I call baloney on that. The Bulls have a shot. Maybe not a great one, but it could be a very long, very interesting series.
With that, it’s the Bucket List — 10 other observations on the Bulls-Celtics matchup:
1. Am I the only one who keeps seeing statements about Jimmy Butler being the best player in this series and is wondering whether we’re not all underestimating Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas? Little dude led all Eastern Conference players during the regular season in points per game (28.9) and three-pointers made (245). It’s pretty hard to fake that much awesome.
Forget about Butler’s reputation and his high opinion of himself; this is prove-it territory. That’s something he truly has yet to do at playoff time.
2. Think the Bulls got a 2011 draft steal by selecting Butler with the last pick in the first round? Take a guess who was the last guy off the board in Round 2. That’s right, it was Thomas — pick No. 60, to the Sacramento Kings. Basketball’s ‘‘Mr. Irrelevant’’? Please.
3. A few leading figures in these playoffs who were selected before Butler and Thomas in 2011: the Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving (No. 1 overall), the Warriors’ Klay Thompson (No. 11) and the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard (No. 15).
Let’s see, anyone else? Oh, yeah — good ol’ Nikola Mirotic, who went 23rd before a draft-night trade to the Bulls. He’s not about to rise to the level of those other guys, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make a big impact on this series.
4. According to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site, the Bulls have a 30 percent chance of winning the series. That’s even better than the 28.6 percent chance the site gave Donald Trump in November, and, well, you know. I’m just saying.
P.S.: The same site lists the Trail Blazers, the No. 8 seed in the West, as having only a 6 percent shot to upend the top-seeded Warriors. There’s some perspective on how much stronger the Bulls’ position appears to be.
5. The last time a No. 8 seed beat a No. 1 seed, it was . . . ugh. Should we relive this for even a moment? It was 2012. Derrick Rose tore his anterior cruciate ligament in Game 1. Not for nothing, Joakim Noah got hurt in Game 3 and missed the rest of the series himself. The Bulls’ — and the NBA’s — loss was the 76ers’ gain.
6. There have been four other No. 8-over-No. 1 upsets since the NBA changed to a 16-team playoff format in 1984. In 1994, the Nuggets shocked the SuperSonics in a five-game series that went the distance. Five years later, the Knicks beat the Heat in five. In 2007, the Warriors small-balled the Mavericks to death in the first No. 8-vs.-No. 1 upset in a best-of-seven series. In 2011, the Grizzlies took down the Spurs.
If the Bulls pull this off, it’ll be less surprising than the Nuggets’, Warriors’ and Grizzlies’ upsets were. But it’ll be a bigger surprise than the series victory by those Knicks, who everyone knew were a lot more dangerous than their seed indicated.
7. We’ve come a long way without mentioning the names Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. How many fourth-quarter surges are left in Wade’s tank? How steady and focused can Rondo be against his former team? For crying out loud, these guys have won championships. Maybe they’ll act like it.
8. Let’s not kid ourselves: The Celtics backed into the No. 1 seed. They’re a No. 2 in a No. 1’s clothing. Hey, that reminds me: The Cavaliers’ effort to give away the top seed and avoid the Bulls was pathetic. But you knew that already.
9. The last time the Bulls were swept in a playoff series was 1987. Thirty years ago, young Michael Jordan and his in-over-its-head squad lost 3-0 — for the second season in a row — to the Celtics of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, et al. The Celtics reached the Finals that season, where they lost to the Lakers in the final act of the greatest rivalry of the 1980s in any sport.
Which is just a long-winded way to get to this: The Bulls aren’t about to be swept by the Celtics this time.
10. Strap in, people. I’ve got it going the full seven games. But the Bulls will fall in the end.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.