Jimmy Butler and the Bulls now have a 2-0 lead over Boston

BOSTON — Bulls star Jimmy Butler raised his hand and balled it into a fist.

‘‘We’re like this,’’ Butler said of the team.

He was hoping that was the end of the discussion, but it wasn’t.

There still are questions about how a team that was so inconsistent and dysfunctional during the regular season is moving toward becoming only the sixth No. 8 seed in the history of the NBA playoffs to beat a No. 1 seed.

Thanks to 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists from Butler and Rajon Rondo falling a rebound short of a triple-double, the Bulls took a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference first-round series by defeating the Boston Celtics 111-97 at TD Garden.

Not bad for a team that has survived infighting, distrust between the players and the front office, a major trade and an ever-changing starting lineup.

‘‘That was back then,’’ said Butler, who wanted to focus on what the Bulls are now rather than what they were. ‘‘Early months, early days. Now we’re in this thing. If we go out there and play hard, guard, make everything tough for everybody, we’ll be fine.

‘‘We can’t worry about the past or the future, for that matter. We’ve got [these playoffs] to worry about. That’s hard in itself. I think everybody’s playing a role, doing what they can to make this organization — this team — successful. We’ll be all right.’’

They’re more than all right. They’ve become a well-oiled machine and can thank Butler for that transformation.

Yes, reinserting Rondo and Nikola Mirotic back into the starting lineup last month was key. But it was Butler willing the Bulls to a 9-4 record in their last 13 regular-season games to earn the last playoff spot in the East that saved the season — a season Butler has no intention of letting end in the first round.

Even before the series started Sunday, Butler was all smiles. He privately let people know the Bulls didn’t fear a Celtics team devoid of any real star power. That was the case again in Game 2.

‘‘Now is [his] moment,’’ Mirotic said of Butler. ‘‘It’s the playoffs to show who he really is, and he’s showing us how good he is. We’ve always trusted in him; we knew what he was capable of. He’s been so locked in, especially in these playoffs. He wants it. He badly wants to prove that he’s an All-Star, that he’s elite, and he’s proving that.’’

The Celtics came out with more emotion and opened a quick 7-0 lead, but emotion only has so much staying power.

Matchup problems, though, don’t go anywhere, and they again worked in the Bulls’ favor.

The Bulls used their size on the boards and their big-game experience to outscore the Celtics 31-19 in the rest of the first quarter to open a 31-26 lead.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens did his best to look for some sort of spark, especially with his team trailing 54-46 at the half, and came out for the third quarter with a new-look lineup. Out was Amir Johnson and in was Tyler Zeller.

It resulted in a quick 13-6 run that cut the Bulls’ lead to one, but the Celtics couldn’t sustain it.

With Butler playing the role of facilitator, Rondo playing the role of agitator and Dwyane Wade waking up after three quarters of slumber to score 11 of his 22 points in the fourth, the Bulls finished off the Celtics.

‘‘This is not done yet, we know that,’’ Mirotic said. ‘‘But we leave here with a lot of confidence.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

 

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