The Bulls Saturday said goodbye to the United Center for the next two and a half weeks with an eventual bon voyage party and 106-95 victory over the Washington Wizards.
The Bulls, 6-4, open a six-game, 12-day road trip in Portland Tuesday. The Wizards are 2-7.
It was a welcome close to the first 10 games of the season for the Bulls thanks to a brilliant game from Jimmy Butler, who kept the Bulls close when they trailed by double digits in the first and second quarters with a game high 37 points.
Butler also ignited the Bulls defense after halftime in a crucial 28-14 third quarter that carried the Bulls down the stretch. Butler also had nine assists, eight rebounds, three steals and shot 14 of 14 from the free throw line. Nikola Mirotic came off the bench for 17 points and 11 rebounds. Dwyane Wade had 14 points, Taj Gibson 13 and Robin Lopez 10 points and 13 rebounds.
The Bulls faced a Wizards team without starting guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, Wall not playing back to backs after summer surgery and Beal with a hamstring injury. So the Wizards started rookies Shelden McClellan and Tomas Satoransky. And then as these things sometimes go blew out ahead of the Bulls to start with the kids outplaying the Bulls veteran backcourt as Rondo and Wade combined to score two first quarter points and were zero for five. The Wizards continued to spring Marcin Gortat loose on pick and roll actions, taking a 21-9 lead.
But the Bulls regrouped behind Butler attacking the basket for seven first quarter free throws and defensive aggression with Isaiah Canaan in the backcourt and making a three. The Bulls then went on a 13-0 run led by Butler, who had 13 in the first quarter and went on to lead 28-27 after one despite shooting 34.6 percent. But it was Washington’s movement which seemed to befuddle the flatfooted Bulls, who allowed several second chance points as the Wizards crept ahead 39-32 four minutes into the second quarter. Doug McDermott and Butler brought the Bulls back to take a one point lead with five minutes left in the second quarter. But the Bulls couldn’t seem to find the magic against the Wizards, who continued to operate inside effectively with 36 points in the paint in the first half. But Butler with 21 in the half and a closing jumper at the buzzer got the Bulls within 56-53 at halftime.
And then Butler got aggressive. The Bulls’ All-Star took over the game on all fronts, grabbing tough rebounds in congestion, getting steals in the passing lanes that turned into fast breaks that Butler led, making a three, getting back to the free throw line and with 11 third quarter points that gave the Bulls an 81-70 lead going into the fourth quarter. It was again a more ambitious Bulls third quarter defensive effort than to start with a 13-2 Bulls run over a six minute stretch at the end of the third that enabled the Bulls to gain the double digit lead. The Bulls shut out Gortat and Markief Morris in the third after they combined for 32 points in the first half and allowed just four inside points in the third. McDermott took a hard fall on a dunk attempt early in the fourth. A flagrant one foul was called on Morris. McDermott had to leave game, unable to shoot the free throws. He’d previously missed a game with a concussion and was put in the league concussion review again. Mirotic shot the free throws to give the Bulls an 85-70 lead. But the Wizards made their second and third threes of the game to stay in it, trailing 87-80 with 8:11 left. But that defense that was resting early continued to wake as Canaan deflected a pass to Butler, who threw ahead for a Mirotic lob before Mirotic added a three as the Bulls went ahead by a dozen with four minutes remaining.