CHICAGO — Bulls All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler says he is looking forward to the challenge of guarding Boston Celtics All-Star guard in their upcoming playoff series, which begins Sunday night in Boston.
“I look forward to that matchup,” Butler said after Friday’s practice. “Especially what he’s done this year for that team. I know that it’s going to come at some point in time. I don’t know when — but I’m going to make it tough for him. For anybody that I’m guarding. Not just me, it’s going to be a team effort. I’m going to get beat at times, I’m going to need guys to be there. If not, then we’ll do it over and over again ’til somebody is there if I’m beat. But I look forward to that challenge. I want that.”
Butler knows he likely won’t be asked to guard Thomas the entire game, but he had no hesitation when asked how long he could stay with Thomas, on top of all the other things he is asked to do on both ends of the floor.
“The whole game,” Butler said.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said his team has a certain number of minutes it would like to see Butler switch onto Thomas, but he wants to see how the game unfolds as to exactly when to put that plan in motion.
“We do have a plan in place, but obviously you have to adjust if things are going in the wrong direction,” Hoiberg said. “But we do have a plan on how we are going to try to slow him down a little bit, which is obviously difficult to do with the No. 2 scorer in the NBA this year.
“We need to understand it’s a team problem, it’s not just the guy guarding him, it’s not just an individual assignment. He’s so good getting into the paint, getting downhill, splitting a ball [screen], pick-and-roll, coverage. He’s obviously a guy who can shoot it all over the floor with unlimited range, and he gets himself to the free throw line a bunch. You have to have a great awareness at all times of where he is and make sure all five guys on the floor know where he is.”
Butler doesn’t sound concerned that Thomas’ height could pose a problem.
“He’s been that height for a long time now, so he’s mastered it,” Butler said. “He’s really good at what he does. Coming off, pulling up, shooting shots. Getting to the rim, getting to the free throw line. 5[-foot-]8, 6-8, whatever it is, the guy knows how to put the ball in the basket.”
Butler said he expects to be physical with Thomas, but he also understands that the Bulls have to try to keep the rest of the Celtics in check as well.
“He’s a big part to what they do,” Butler said. “We all know that. I think they know that. But you can’t take him out the game and think that you can win. Because they got a lot of other really good players, role players that make shots, create for others. They guard, they rebound, pass the ball. They got a really good team; they’re really good at what they do.”