Sometimes it simply comes down to wanting it just a little more, like Jimmy Butler Saturday in the Bulls brilliant 123-118 overtime comeback victory over the Toronto Raptors. Sure it’s a cliche, and it’s not like they all don’t want to win. They do, and the intention was clearly there in the ferocity of Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. But just oh so much less than it was with Jimmy Butler, who with 42 points and perhaps a half dozen crucial plays to save and secure the game, continues on a march to unimagined greatness.
This stretch, as Hoiberg evenly notes, should certainly bring Butler a second NBA Player of the Week nod Monday with back to back wins over the East’s two best teams, the Cavaliers on the road and then the Raptors, the Bulls astonishing 10th straight win over an excellent Raptors team.
It was Butler’s third game of at least 40 points in the last six games and this week averaging 38 points, 9.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists, basically finishing games also playing point guard. You wouldn’t be surprised if he also parked the team’s cars, cooked the post game meal, washed the socks and flew the plane. You can’t find much more do it all in the NBA than we’ve seen from Butler lately. There was the 52 points to beat a good Hornets team Monday, 14 fourth quarter points to save the Bulls in Cleveland and then 17 in the fourth quarter and overtime Saturday to keep the Bulls undefeated in 2017, 32 after halftime.
The Bulls, 19-18, are in their best stretch since November with three straight wins and five of seven. And Butler with yet another one of those go to step back jumpers under pressure to effectively clinch the victory, this time a three with 17.3 seconds left in overtime for a 121-116 lead and oh no for Canada again in Chicago.
“I work and I love what I do so much that I don’t want to let this organization down, my teammates, the city,” said Butler. “I live for this; this is what I wake up for every single morning.
“When Fred Hoiberg is ‘Get the ball to Jimmy,’ you better do something with it,” said Butler. “When D. Wade is coming up like ‘Here, you have to do something with it, make a play.’ Just playing basketball. That’s what I pride myself on, how hard I work and how hard I play. I don’t think you can outwork me and I don’t want you to play harder than I do.”
Butler was hardly alone with Dwyane Wade scoring 20 points, Doug McDermott with 17 and Nikola Mirotic with 12 and both with big three pointers late in regulation. Jerian Grant made two clutch free throws late to finalize the game and Cristiano Felicio basically played the entire fourth quarter and overtime. The Bulls reserves had a 42-23 scoring edge. Hoiberg noted each of the four reserves had a plus rating in the game plus/minus. Also, McDermott had a career best 10 rebounds for his first career double/double and Mirotic had nine rebounds.
After being equal in rebounding in the first half when the Raptors led 61-48, the Bulls outrebounded Toronto by 19 in the second half and overall 26-7 in second chance points. Butler also had 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals and shot 18 of 20 on free throws, offsetting 39 percent Bulls shooting.
Hoiberg seems to have settled on a rotation down the stretch as well with Butler and Wade in the backcourt, Mirotic and McDermott to stretch the floor and shoot threes and Felicio as an active big man to challenge the pick and roll and recover. Felicio had the big tap back on Butler’s initial miss that led to his game clinching three. Felicio also finished a lob and got a three point play in the fourth quarter following a Wade miss.
“Now we’re getting into a package you are comfortable with,” said Wade. “Like Toronto. We know they have five plays they run down the stretch and they ran all five of them; they put their two best players in action. Sometimes me and Jimmy, sometimes Doug because he’s a shooter and makes them have to respect him; we’re figuring out now what we want to do. Early in the year, we didn’t really know and we lost games we shouldn’t have lost because of that. We have a great closer and whenever they need me I’m a great closer as well. Our job from here on is not to worry about what our record says, but now in this new year to take the strides we are taking, to continue to try to put some games together and see where we end up.”</P.
It was Butler’s stretch play and plays that turned the game around for the Bulls after they were run down early and came into the fourth quarter trailing 86-74, were still behind 99-90 with six minutes left. Butler scored nine straight points starting with a three and driving his way to the basket; and then his drive into a swarm of Raptors led to a slick pass to Wade for a dunk and 101-99 Bulls lead with 2:59 left. After the Bulls trailed 82-63 with 3:26 left in the third quarter, it was on.
A Raptors team only eying Cleveland in the East grew desperate. How far can you seriously go when you can’t win games like this against a team that’s made you look bad for three years? Is that the stuff of serious contention?
Lowry with 27 points and 36 for DeRozan tied it up. Butler then made the first of those plays that nine others could, but one does. The Bulls began putting McDermott in pick and roll with Butler to have that shooter and finally get the opponent hesitant to double. Butler showed a willingness to pass, and like against Charlotte Monday, the Raptors ended up not taking the ball out of Butler’s hands at the crucial times. On Butler’s winner in overtime, Lowry was on an island against Butler with no help.
DeMarre Carroll was defending Butler to start, but Lowry came up on the switch. Butler shot quickly and missed, but he followed the shot, leaped and with his left hand tipped the ball to Mirotic in the left corner for a three and 104-101 Bulls lead with 2:18 left.
Felicio did a nice job cutting off Lowry after a switch, but was called for a curious foul. Even Butler admitted the Bulls players were a bit distracted by the officiating and complaining too much earlier in the game when they were run out by the Raptors, who broke open the game in the second quarter and looked like they’d cruise with their third quarter domination.
Lowry was stripped on a drive by Mirotic and Wade saved the loose ball with 1:49 in regulation. Butler missed with Lucas Nogueira helping Lowry on Butler’s stepback. DeRozan then scored on a short running jumper in the lane to get Toronto within 104-103 with 1:23 left.
McDermott missed a wide open three on top when Toronto blew the switch, and then DeRozan beat Wade around the right side with McDermott moving out of position to help and was fouled. He made both for a 105-104 Toronto lead with 59.4 seconds left. To come so far so well and lose so close? No way, said Butler.
He dribbled up. Carroll stayed with him around the McDermott screen. Butler spun and shot a short jumper in the lane that hit the front of the rim. But with four Raptors around, it appeared Felicio got a hand on the ball with Butler crashing. The ball squirted back to Butler, who grabbed it, threw it back to Wade on top. Wade then wheeled the ball sideways to McDermott. He downed the three for a 107-105 Bulls lead with 39.5 seconds left. He’d just missed one, but he didn’t hesitate this time.
“The bench was huge; knocking down big shot after big shot,” noted Butler. “When you miss your shot you have to take that same shot again; we are preaching that to them and they did that tonight and they are a big part of this win.”
The Raptors weren’t done; they’re a tough team, if perhaps not elite relying on three small guards most of the time. Wade fouled DeRozan on a tough jumper, Wade angered by the foul call. DeRozan made both with 31.7 seconds left to tie the game. Carroll played Butler tough this time and Butler passed back to Wade, who missed on a spin in the lane and Felicio on the tip. The Raptors thus had a chance to win with 10 seconds left and went at the Bulls without the timeout. DeRozan had an opening driving the lane, but missed short. The ball bounced back out to Lowry, who took a fadeaway at the free throw line. It hit the front of the rim, rolled over and to the side of the rim and then tantalizingly off as regulation ended. Wow.
The Bulls then controlled much of the overtime with McDermott making free throws being fouled on a three. And then before Butler’s super stepback, there was a Butler drive and pass to McDermott cutting backdoor for a slam dunk to make it 116-111 with 2:18 left. And then it was Butler to close.
“Now we know going down the stretch we are going to run sets to put the ball in his hand, put him in his sweet spot and sometimes he has to take some tough shots and then makes incredible shots,” Wade continued. “Everyone knows now; there’s no doubt about it. We’re going to him. You can see the swagger in him. He wants it. He’s a guy who doesn’t want to let anyone down. The mentality that it takes to even if you’re having a bad game, like Cleveland he wasn’t shooting well, to still do that in the clutch, that’s big time. He’s putting himself in that category of being just special.”
And as controversy, contention and curiosity swirl, as often it does around the Bulls, Butler continue to go about his work.
“My job is not to worry about the media, what’s going on in the outside world, just to come in here and win games,” said Butler. “I tell everybody like they tell me, we’re all we have, good, bad, indifferent; all the hippy hoopla going around? Just keep being you and keep working.”
We are all witnesses.