By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — If need be, Bulls star Jimmy Butler has a plan for how Chicago can sneak him a breather in the upcoming games against Boston in a first-round series that’s now even at 2-2.
“Timeouts and technical fouls — I’ll rest during those,” Butler said. “Other than that, I’m going to be out there battling.”
Those words came late Sunday, when Butler was physically drained after his 33-point, nine-assist, nearly 46-minute effort in a 104-95 defeat to the top-seeded Celtics in Game 4 at the United Center and as the dynamic of this series has shifted. For as much as the Bulls dominated the first two games with a balanced attack and their physicality, they’ve been heavily reliant on Butler while struggling to counter the Celtics’ adjustments in the ensuing two losses.
And so the topic was raised: Is it realistic to expect Butler to continue to carry this burden? One that includes playing nearly the entire game, being the primary offensive playmaker, taking a physical beating in going to the free-throw line 23 times Sunday and also having to guard Celtics star Isaiah Thomas at times.
“Very realistic,” Butler said. “Because that’s what my team needs me to do. I feel like D-Wade did it whenever he was in Miami. All of those players do that — play big minutes, guard on both ends of the floor, attack, score the basketball. I want to win. If I have to play the whole game, if that’s what Coach asks me and my teammates think I can do it, I’m cool with that.”
Butler’s responsibility has increased with point guard Rajon Rondo out indefinitely with a fractured thumb, and it will likely continue with Rondo not expected back this series. On Sunday, Butler didn’t get enough help, with other primary scorers Dwyane Wade recording 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting and Nikola Mirotic registering 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
The Bulls shot 42 percent in the game and just 25 percent in a first quarter in which they fell behind 30-18.
“We have to figure it out and do what we need to do to make more shots,” Wade said.
“Obviously, guys want to get Jimmy the ball, but we got to figure out a way to to just be in a little rhythm, so we can help him out in the scoring punch.”
Butler was front and center in every regard in Game 4. Just more than three minutes into the second quarter, he went nose-to-nose with Celtics guard Marcus Smart after Bulls teammate Isaiah Canaan had stolen the ball and made a layup. Smart appeared to give Butler a light shove to the chest, and Butler took issue with that as trash talking ensued.
Questioned about it afterward, Butler had a message for Smart ahead of Game 5 in Boston on Wednesday night.
“He’s a great actor,” Butler said. “Acting tough is what he does, but I don’t think he’s about that. I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. He needs to take it somewhere else, because I’m not the one for that.
“That’s the first time. Last time too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So he’s calming down.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.