Jimmy Butler leads the way as Bulls edge Celtics 104-103


Photos from the Bulls-Celtics game on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, at the United Center.

When the Bulls next take the United Center floor on Feb. 24, it will be known whether they were buyers or sellers or stand-patters at Thursday’s trade deadline.

And how coincidental: Thursday’s opponent just happened to be the Celtics, who fell to the Bulls 104-103 when Jimmy Butler sank two free throws with 0.9 seconds left after a questionable foul call on Marcus Smart.

The same Celtics who engaged in serious trade talks centered on Butler last June.

Because the Bulls couldn’t reach an organizational consensus then on whether to trade a player who has taken even another step this season, it would be surprising to see a reversal in less than a week. Particularly because word around the league, as of now, is the Celtics won’t part with the Nets’ pick that could be the first overall selection in this June’s draft.

Never say never in the NBA, where things can change quickly. And the teams also could re-kindle talks come June near the draft.

But for now, the Bulls’ focus is on changing their playoff fortunes, which obviously would be easier with Butler staying put.

"Everyone knows this is where I want to be," Butler said on the Bulls’ recent West Coast trip.

Photos of Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler.

The Bulls, who won for the 17th straight time in the regular season when broadcast on TNT, will come out of the break just a game behind the sixth-place Pacers in the Eastern Conference. But Taj Gibson believes the Bulls can make a post-All-Star break run.

"I do because every time we play against the top-tier teams, teams that are competing for something, we do well against them. We get up for the challenge," Gibson said. "We’re still inconsistent when we play against some of the lower-tier teams. But I’m optimistic and always positive."

In fact, coach Fred Hoiberg chalks up the recent up-and-down play to up-and-down health, which featured the Bulls not having Dwyane Wade for a third straight game. Wade piled illness on top of his sore right wrist and didn’t attend.

"You look back after the big meeting we had and we really got in a good rhythm," Hoiberg said, citing the Jan. 27 team talk after Rajon Rondo called out Wade and Butler for criticizing teammates publicly. "Hopefully we’ll stay healthy down the stretch and have a good run."

If the Bulls make a move, it likely would be of the minor variety. Rondo and Nikola Mirotic have been on the market for weeks. Mirotic, who was available but didn’t play by coach’s decision after missing the last two games with back spasms, has drawn minor interest to this point.

The Bulls cooled off the Celtics, who had won 11 of 12 entering and were without Avery Bradley and Jaylen Brown.

Butler finished with 29 points and seven assists, one of six Bulls in double figures. Bobby Portis added a season-high 19 points and eight rebounds as the Bulls piled up advantages of 51-31 in rebounding and 22-4 in second-chance points.

Isaiah Thomas finished with 29 points and seven assists. It was his 41st straight game with 20 or more points, surpassing John Havlicek’s franchise record. Thomas scored the Celtics’ final 11 points.

Butler matched up against Thomas down the stretch, coming up with a big strip with 70 seconds left.

"A lot of guys are banged up, especially mentally too," Gibson said. "We’ve had ups and downs. But I like the guys we have."

Twitter @kcjhoop

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