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NBA Yesterday: Bulls snatch victory from jaws of defeat on questionable call

Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler looks on during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, in Chicago. The Hawks won 119-114. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski

The Skip Pass is your home on FanRag Sports for insights and nuggets on each game played in the NBA. This is different from your regular game recap or box score. We want to take you inside the game and call out things you might have missed.

Focus Game: Celtics at Bulls

Other Game: Wizards at Pacers

BULLS 104 – CELTICS 103

The final second of a back and forth game was mired in controversy as the Bulls snagged a home win over the Celtics. Starting at the end, Jimmy Butler was fouled by Marcus Smart while attempting a jumper with less than a second left:

There was contact, but it was slight and usually the type of contact that is let go at the end of a close game. Butler then stepped to the line and drained two free throws to give Chicago the lead. Al Horford missed a jumper as the buzzer sounded.

It would be easy to give the win to the Bulls based off a 50-50, at best, call, but that would be ignoring a lot of other factors throughout the game. First off was Chicago dominating Boston on the glass by a 51-31 margin, including 15 offensive rebounds. Robin Lopez was particularly effective with five offensive rebounds as part of the Bulls creating a whopping 22 second chance points.

Giving up so many offensive boards offset terrific defense by the Celtics. They locked down the Bulls on the perimeter and forced them to shoot just 6-of-25 from behind the arc as part of a 42 percent shooting night overall. But coaches always say a defensive possession doesn’t end until you secure the ball, and the Celtics didn’t end with the ball enough.

Both teams did play a remarkably clean game with only 15 total turnovers, including just one turnover (more on that in a minute) in the entire second half. That helped make it a more watchable game, despite the poor shooting.

In addition to hitting the game-winning foul shots, Butler led the way with 29 points and seven assists for the Bulls. In some ways, Chicago might be better when Butler is the lone ball handler on the floor. He’s become such a good playmaker for himself and his teammates that it lessens his impact when he’s forced to play off the ball.

Speaking of his teammates, the Bulls’ bench stepped up to help win them this game. Doug McDermott struggled with his shot, but he managed to score 11 points and hit some big shots down the stretch. But the real star off the pine was Bobby Portis, who played arguably his best game of the year and was part of Chicago’s closing lineup. Portis scored 19 points, grabbed eight rebounds and looked like he belonged on the floor at the end of a close game.

For Boston, the Celtics were led by Isaiah Thomas with 29 points (setting a Celtics franchise record for consecutive games with 20-plus points), and Kelly Olynyk continued his strong play off the bench with 17 points. Unfortunately for Boston, they didn’t get much help. After going all game without doing much, Marcus Smart did cause the one second-half turnover with a signature “cobra” strike strip of Butler on the Bulls’ next-to-last possession. And of course, he was the defender on the final play.

Overall, these two teams had very different runs into the All-Star Break. Boston won 11 of its last 13 and sit firmly in second place, while the Bulls are now one game under .500 and sit in seventh place in the East:

WIZARDS 111 – PACERS 98

Washington went to Indiana and handled the tumbling Pacers with ease. The Wizards never trailed and led by as many as 19 points in the road win. These two teams were once connected towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, but Washington has played great while Indiana continues to muddle through the season, as turmoil is starting to swirl around them.

It was another great performance by the Wizards’ starting five. Of all lineups that have played at least 40 games together, the Washington starters rank second to only the Warriors’ regular opening unit in +/-. Golden State is at +6.4 and the Wizards rank not far behind at +5.7.

John Wall scored 20 points with 12 assists for his ninth straight double-double, while Bradley Beal added 19, including 4-of-7 from three. The Wizards’ frontcourt really made the difference as well. Otto Porter’s breakout season rolled into the All-Star break with 25 points and eight rebounds, Markieff Morris added 21 points and Marcin Gortat scored 12.

Washington has to rely on the starters for such incredible production because its bench has been sub-par. Only Kelly Oubre Jr. has given them solid production, and he’s still inconsistent from night to night. This game was a microcosm of the season, as the Wizards’ reserves combined for just 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting. For the Wizards to make a run in the playoffs, they need to get better production from their bench.

As for the Pacers, they limp into the break as losers of six straight. And things don’t seem to be great in the locker room:

Paul George scored 17 points, but he shot just 6-of-19 and had many around the NBA media discussing whether or not he was a deserving All-Star choice this year. Not matter what it is, something isn’t right with these Pacers and they have to figure it out soon. They are dropping in the Eastern Conference and sit just one game in front of the Bulls for the sixth seed:

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