One could count on a single hand the amount of times an 8 seed has toppled a top seed in the NBA playoffs. On Easter Sunday, the Chicago Bulls put themselves in position to become the next, stunning the Boston Celtics at home, 106-102, to open the series.
Fittingly, the most unlikely of results was galvanized by the most unlikely of heroes: Bobby Portis.
You could be forgiven if the name is unfamiliar. In January, Portis, a first-round pick out of Arkansas in 2015, had been demoted to Chicago’s D-League affiliate, the Windy City Bulls.
Fast-forward four months, and not only was Portis playing for the Chicago Bulls, he was leading them to the biggest upset in the NBA playoffs thus far. Portis finished the night with 19 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks in just 29 minutes, though nothing was bigger than his jumper with 1:18 left in the game, which padded Chicago’s lead to 9 and all but sealed the win.
"Bobby Portis dagger" was likely not something you expected to read tonight pic.twitter.com/fLbMv5qEM7
— The Ringer (@ringer) April 17, 2017
The only ones who are likely not surprised by the breakout performance are Arkansas fans, who grew to expect this exact type of play on a nightly basis during Portis’ two years as a Razorback. As a sophomore, Portis averaged 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game en route to being named the SEC Player of the Year, becoming the first Razorback to win the award as voted on by coaches.
His NBA career, however, has been largely a disappointment. As a rookie, he appeared in 62 games but scored just 7 points a night, shooting a woeful 42.7 percent from the field. But since his demotion to the D-League, Chicago fans have been treated to the player the Bulls had in mind when they took him with the 22nd pick in the draft.
His minutes have steadily risen, and he checked in for 29 of them on Sunday, a number that he has only eclipsed on three other occasions this season. He more than delivered, prompting Bulls beat writer Chuck Garfien to tweet:
Bobby Portis, we don't even know you anymore.
— Chuck Garfien (@ChuckGarfien) April 17, 2017