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Bulls top Celtics 106-102; Isaiah Thomas plays after sister’s death

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BOSTON (AP) The Chicago Bulls waited until the final night of the regular season to cement their spot in the postseason. Jimmy Butler made sure the wait for a playoff victory was a short one.

Butler had 30 points and nine rebounds and the Bulls outlasted top-seeded Boston 106-102 in Game 1 on Sunday on an emotional night for grieving Celtics star Isaiah Thomas.

Playing a day after 22-year-old sister Chyna Thomas was killed in a car accident in their home state of Washington, Thomas led the Celtics with 33 points. But Butler overcame a united Garden crowd and led Chicago to the victory, scoring 23 points in the second half.

“We were so locked in all week,” Butler said. “We knew their stuff, just like they knew ours. But we executed extremely well. We haven’t done that all season, but this is the right time to do it.”

He also got a big lift from the Bulls’ young reserves, who outscored their Boston counterparts 35-22.

Bobby Portis finished with 19 for the Bulls.

Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg lauded his team’s defensive effort, particularly how it outrebounded Boston 53-36. He also had praise for the job Butler did defending Thomas late, after Rajon Rondo picked up his fifth foul.

“Jimmy is obviously our best defender,” he said. “Jimmy is going to have his turn to guard him.”

Rondo said they wanted to be aggressive.

“I told the guys coming out it was going to be physical and we wanted to throw the first punch,” he said.

Al Horford had 19 points, eight assists and seven rebounds for the Celtics. He was active throughout, coming up with several big baskets and assists to keep his team in the game.

Game 2 in the first-round series is Tuesday night in Boston.

Neither team had more than a two-possession lead until Butler made three free throws with 4 minutes to play to make it 95-88. Butler scored 10 straight points to put the Bulls back in front early in the fourth, the first of three lead changes in the fourth quarter.

Later, Thomas had a scary moment when he was hit on his left hand on a 3-point attempt before landing awkwardly on it. After a quick visit to the trainer, he calmly made all three free throws.

It was part of a stretch in which he scored seven straight points.

Celtics fans rallied behind Thomas, showering him with a deafening cheer when he was introduced.

Still, Thomas appeared to be a little emotional at the start of the game, badly missing his first free throw short off the front rim. He wasn’t the only Boston player a little off their game in the first half. Boston’s second unit started the second quarter 1 for 7 from the field and was outscored 10-0 to surrender the Celtics’ first-quarter lead.

The Bulls also had their moments of fallibility.

Late in the second quarter Wade intercepted an errant pass by Thomas, but got hung on the front of the rim as he attempted a dunk on the fast break.

Horford he acknowledged afterward that emotions were tough for not just Thomas, but the entire team.

“We’re never going to make excuses, but this is hard,” Horford said. “This was difficult, and I felt like our guys really dealt with it best. We knew (Thomas) was hurting…we have a lot of respect for him that he was able to come out.”

TIP-INS

Bulls: Outrebounded the Celtics 32-16 in the first half, including 16 offensive rebounds.

Celtics: Thomas recorded his second career 30-point game in the postseason. He had 42 against the Hawks last season. … Horford has now scored in double figures in each of his last six postseason games. … Were 18 for 45 from the field in the first half.

PIVOTAL STRETCH

The Celtics took an 88-87 with 5:33 to go, before the Bulls went on a 14-4 run to push back in front. Boston within two on a layup by Thomas with 7.5 seconds following a Chicago turnover, but Butler hit a pair of free throws to seal it.

MOMENT OF SILENCE

The Celtics held a pregame moment of silence for Thomas’ sister, part of an emotional pregame introduction for him. He looked toward the Garden rafters just before tip-off and wrote several messages to his sister on his sneakers. Visible were “Chyna,” “RIP Lil Sis” and “I love you.”

During the team’s pregame shootaround TNT’s cameras captured him being consoled on the bench by teammate Avery Bradley.

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Bucks’ Khris Middleton, dealing with illness, misses practice

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ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) — Bucks wing Khris Middleton missed practice with an illness that has been bothering the Bucks’ second-leading scorer (14.7 points) all week.

Middleton was 3 of 8 for eight points in 35 minutes in the 118-93 Game 5 loss in Toronto that gave the Raptors a 3-2 series lead. Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd said he didn’t think the illness was a factor, and that Middleton had good looks and played well defensively. He expected Middleton to start on Thursday and said he wasn’t pondering any lineup changes for Game 6.

The Bucks got a day off from practice then returned to practice Wednesday after a brief break from what has been an increasingly rugged series.

After getting blown out in Game 3 by the Bucks, the Raptors won the next two games in part by being more physical and slowing down Milwaukee.

Sometimes, a young team needs to learn from failure to get better.

Kidd hopes his players build on the lessons learned from a stinker of a Game 5 in their opening-round playoff series against the Toronto Raptors. They need to regroup quickly to avoid elimination when the Raptors and Bucks meet Thursday night at the Bradley Center.

“Yeah, I hope so,” Kidd said when asked about whether his players learned from the blowout loss. “Today, I thought guys were focused, understanding what we have to do. It’s not hard, but for us the process of being able to be consistent is the one thing that we struggle with.”

Workaholic forward Giannis Antetokounmpo might have been the only player who didn’t want a breather.

“I don’t know, for me, I didn’t need an off-day. But for sure some guys played a lot of minutes, their bodies are sore,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think for some guys it’s good to get some rest so we can bring more energy tomorrow.”

For all of his athleticism, the 22-year-old Antetokounmpo lacks playoff experience when compared to the postseason-tested Raptors.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton are playing in their second career playoff series after the Bucks lost in six games to top-seeded Chicago in 2015. Antetokounmpo’s role has changed now that he’s the focal point of the offense, so he faces more defensive scrutiny.

The team surrounding Antetokounmpo and Middleton has been almost completely made over since then, with injured forward Jabari Parker and center John Henson the only other holdovers. Henson has only played three minutes against Toronto.

Two other starters, guard Malcolm Brogdon and center Thon Maker, are rookies. Even center Greg Monroe, a seven-year veteran who provides scoring punch off the bench, is making his playoff debut. Fourth-year players Tony Snell (Bulls) and Matthew Dellavedova (Cavaliers) joined the Bucks this season, brought to Milwaukee in part because of their postseason experience.

In contrast, the Raptors have been through about every conceivable playoff situation after losing to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals last season. Led by one of the best backcourts in the game in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, Toronto is no stranger to adversity.

“You definitely see that experience come into play and we just understand the moment probably a little bit more than them. That’s not to take away (anything) from them,” DeRozan said. “They are a great team, a young team and this is definitely going to be an experience they will learn from and carry over but for now it’s something we have to keep in mind and understand the moment of going into every single game … to try and close this thing out.”

Milwaukee’s transition game is off track with 31 turnovers over the last two contests.

“That’s the physicality part, because it’s the playoffs, because it’s more intense. You get away with slaps, holds, grabs and that’s a trick of the trade,” said Jason Terry, a 17-year veteran who is averaging about 10 minutes a game off the bench for the Bucks this series.

“If you haven’t (been) through that, you don’t know it until you face it,” Terry said. “I think for us being a young team, now that we’ve seen it four or five games consecutively, hopefully now we can adjust.”

NOTES:

 

Jimmy Butler hits contested deep buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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Shooting buzzer-beaters is especially difficult because the defender knows your deadline to release the shot. The threat of a pump fake, drive to another location or pass disappears as the seconds tick down.

On the other hand, Jimmy Butler is very good.

Wizards’ interior defense, transition buckets earns them 103-98 win, 3-2 series lead over Hawks

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It’s one of the core tenets of the NBA analytics movement that aligns well with old-school thinking — get your buckets from the places it’s easiest to score. The ones where teams shoot the highest percentage, where they are most efficient. Basically, shoot close to the basket or corner threes.

Feeling comfortable back home, Washington took those shots away from Atlanta Wednesday night — the Hawks shot 43.6 percent inside eight feet of the rim, were just 18-of-41 in the paint (43.9 percent) and were 0-of-6 on corner threes.

Combine that with 27 points from Bradley Beal, 20 points and 14 assists for John Wall, and some transition baskets (20 fast break points) and you get a 103-98 win for the Wizards. Washington now has a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 in Atlanta Friday night (if necessary, Game 7 would be Sunday).

Washington always seemed to be the better team in this one, but they could never get a comfortable lead — when Washington would get up double digits, the Hawks would close the gap again and hang around.

A lot of credit for that goes to point guard Dennis Schroder, who had 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting, and was 5-of-6 from three, to lead the Hawks. As it has been all series, the Wizards game plan with Schroder was to go under every pick and dare him to beat them with his jumper — and he almost did. Schroder also had 11 assists on the game.

While he played well and Paul Millsap was his usual impressive self inside (21 points, although on 8-of-19 shooting), the Hawks wings were a mess. Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined to shoot 13-of-41 (31.7 percent) and they were 3-of-18 from three (Hardaway had all the makes).

Meanwhile, Beal had one of his best games of the playoffs, and he deserves some credit for the struggles of the Hawks’ wings.

“I think (Beal) is one of the best two-way players in the league,” Brooks said. “He’s not going to tell anyone he’s a great defender, but his coaching staff, his teammates know he locks up defensively.”

Washington also got some help from Otto Porter (17 points) and Bojan Bogdanovic off the bench with 14 points. Both of them made some clutch shots.

Scott Brooks threw some new wrinkles at the Hawks that worked for stretches — using Wall to double Millsap at times, or going for a stretch with Markieff Morris at the five. Morris still had foul trouble despite the help, the veteran Millsap knows how to get calls. Still, the tweaks worked well enough to get Washington some buckets, and the win.

The question becomes will the Wizards be able to do that on the road — the home team has won every game this series. If the Hawks’ wings feel more comfortable and hit some shots, if Atlanta can get some more easy points inside Friday night, we will be watching Game 7 of this series on Sunday.

No. 1 pick in WNBA draft LAUNCHES shirt deep into stands at Spurs-Grizzlies game (video)

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If the Cleveland Browns are still considering a quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft tomorrow, maybe they ought to take Kelsey Plum.

Plum, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, will play for the San Antonio Stars. First, she went to San Antonio for last night’s Spurs-Grizzlies Game 5 and showed off her arm by launching a shirt far into the crowd.

And she’s witty: