CHICAGO – Jimmy Butler was outplayed by Avery Bradley.
It’s a bold statement, one co-authored by both Bradley and Butler after the Celtics’ 108-97 Game 5 win over the Chicago Bulls.
Only time will tell if we’ll see another chapter added to what was one of the more surprising narratives to develop in this series.
“I didn’t win the matchup,” Butler, visibly dejected, said after the Bulls’ loss.
Bradley confirmed his individual victory when asked about it after the game, and then added, “I’m trying to make it hard on him. Butler is a very good player and my job for our team is to go out there and defend, try not to foul, and make [Butler] work for every shot and make him work on both ends of the floor. That’s what I tried to do [in Game 5].”
The 6-foot-2 Bradley will have a similar game plan on Friday as the Celtics try and close out the series with a win and move on to Conference semifinals for the first time since 2012.
While Butler isn’t one to make excuses in good or bad times, there was a report in CSNChicago.com that raised the possibility that Butler might be dealing with some kind of knee injury.
In Game 5, Butler had 14 points on 6-for-15 shooting while taking just two shots from the field in the decisive fourth quarter after drilling a last-second 3-pointer that put the Bulls ahead 81-79 going into the fourth.
“"I'm good,” Butler told reporters after the loss. “Everyone's a little nicked up; I'll be all right."
Healthy or not, there was no getting around the job Bradley did against Butler at both ends of the floor.
In addition to doing a better-than-average job defensively, Bradley also had a career playoff-high 24 points on an efficient 11-of-19 shooting.
The job that Bradley did in Game 5 speaks to why Stevens has reiterated time and time again just how valuable he has been to the Celtics’ success in recent years.
“Avery’s really important to our team; we’ve said that all year,” Stevens said. “He’s played great the last couple of games and I think that Jimmy Butler’s a hard guy to guard, Dwyane Wade’s hard to guard – you’re not going to stop those guys but you just try to make it as hard as possible, and I thought all our guys did a pretty good job when they switched on to Butler [in Game 5]. But certainly Avery is the guy that starts the game on him, and has played a lot of minutes on him, and has done a really good job.”
Butler took 15 shots from the field, 12 of which were contested (most by Bradley) with only four of those makes.
Meanwhile, 13 of Bradley’s 19 field goal attempts in Game 5 were contested. But that didn’t stop him from knocking down eight of them, which was more made contested shots than any other player in Game 5.
But in the end it was Bradley’s defense that ultimately led to him winning the head-to-head battle with Butler and even more important, the game.
The importance of Bradley in matching up with Butler can be seen in a number of statistical areas, none of which is more telling than the minutes played by both players.
Butler logged a team-high 39 minutes, 17 seconds, while Bradley was on the floor for 39 minutes, 44 seconds.
Stevens acknowledged part of Boston’s game plan was to try and keep Bradley on the floor with Butler as much as possible, but still be flexible enough to switch when needed.
“As long as Wade and Butler were on the floor, yes, I felt that way,” Stevens said. “But I trust our other guys to guard [Butler].”
And they trust Bradley, a first team All-NBA defender last season who has shown himself to be up to the challenge of not just holding his own against Butler but also displaying the ability to outplay him on any given night – like Game 5.