By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics took control of their first-round playoff series against the Bulls on Wednesday night.
The usual suspects stepped up, with Isaiah Thomas scoring 24 points and Al Horford stuffing the stat sheet with a 21-point, nine assist and seven rebound evening. But the C’s never would have sniffed their 108-97 Game 5 victory without a career night from Avery Bradley.
As the C’s offense sputtered early, Bradley was aggressive and carried the load. He attacked the basket. He hit floaters, which aren’t in his usual repertoire. Bradley had 17 points in the first half, hitting shots as Thomas struggled to get going. He ended the night with a playoff career-high 24 points on 11-for-19 shooting, doing all his damage on that side of the ball in the first three quarters.
That’s because Bradley had his hands full elsewhere in the game’s final frame. He was busy shutting down Jimmy Butler, despite the Bulls star owning a four-inch height and 40-pound advantage over the C’s guard. Butler, who has averaged 22.6 points for the series, was held to 14 points on 6-for-15 shooting. Bradley held him to 1-for-5 shooting on the night.
“I’m trying to make it hard on him,” Bradley said of the matchup. “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 the player work for every shot, make him work on both ends of the floor. That’s what I tried to do tonight.
“I was trying to eliminate letting Jimmy Butler get to the free throw line. That was my goal this game, and I feel like I did it,” he added.
After taking 23 free throws in Game 4 (and making 19 of them), Butler got to the line just once on Wednesday night, missing his only attempt. Butler could only tip his cap after the game.
“I didn’t win the matchup,” he conceded.
The Celtics have now won three straight after falling into a 2-0 series hole. The longest tenured member of the Celtics, Bradley said they’re ready to finish the series off on Friday night.
“It’s been the story of our team, being able to fight through adversity,” said Bradley. “We believe in one another. We went to Chicago knowing that we were going to win those games — not hoping. We knew that we were going to take two games and come here and take care of home, and now it’s our job to continue to play the same way and finish the series in Chicago.”
If Bradley can continue to contribute on both ends of the floor, the Celtics could be playing their first second-round playoff game since 2012 on Sunday, and not a do-or-die Game 7.