Jimmy Butler did it again Tuesday. With the Bulls tied with the Dallas Mavericks at 96 with 37 seconds left, Butler dribbled out of the backcourt heading, you just knew, to that right wing for the shot that has become as unstoppable as Kareem’s sky hook, Gervin’s finger roll, Dirk’s one legged fadeaway, Jimmy’s step back.
Wesley Matthews, who had been skirmishing with his former Marquette teammate all game in a brilliant duel of top defensemen, got up on Butler, fought over the screen and was in terrific defensive position. Fugetaboutit!
Jimmy’s 21 footer floated in with 22.8 seconds left, Matthews clapping his hands in disgust and frustration, Butler high stepping back to the Bulls bench with a look. You know, that look.
But this was one of those times 48 minutes was not as good as 47 minutes and some 37 seconds.
Because Matthews then made a three pointer with 11.7 seconds left. Butler then isolated on the left side instead of his usual spot, Matthews sticking to him and knocking the ball away. It squirted to Dwyane Wade in the left corner. He faced up Deron Williams and took a baseline fadeaway just in front of the three-point line for the win. It bounced off the rim to the disappointment of the Bulls in the 99-98 defeat.
“Same mistakes over and over again,” Butler added. “Eventually I figure we will learn as a team; it’s about the personnel out there on the floor. We have to be better. Otherwise, we’ll keep getting the same outcome every single time.”
It was both the beauty and the misery of the NBA, the moments of jubilation offset by the anguish of sudden defeat.
The loss was particularly painful, and perhaps galling for the Bulls as it came after an impressive victory in Memphis. It dropped the Bulls to 21-22 with their second loss this season to 14-27 Dallas. It also was the Bulls ninth home loss, four to teams with losing records. It thus left the Bulls again playing ping pong with momentum, going back and forth around .500 in this seemingly endless loop.
Butler had another marvelous game with 24 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, making 14 of 16 free throws in the searing battle with Matthews. Robin Lopez, a rare offensive destination for the Bulls since he was being defended by Dirk Nowitzki, had 21 points. Wade on his 35th birthday just missed the winner as present. The Bulls were without Taj Gibson with ankle soreness, and that proved fatal on Matthews’ winner. The Bulls overcame a 13-point third quarter deficit, outrebounded the Mavs with 10-3 on second chance points and had Nikola Mirotic back from illness, He had six points and five rebounds.
But it was Mirotic also in the midst of the uncertainty on Matthews winner that left the Bulls gloomy about the outcome.
Teams routinely take a time out after a shot like Butler’s to go ahead. The Bulls obviously expected it as Butler initially was headed back to the huddle. But when he saw Dallas moving up court immediately, he hustled cross court to get in front of Williams.
“It creates unpredictability,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle explained about the no timeout decision. “Plus, (former Mav Rajon) Rondo knows all the plays.”
The Bulls have become a team that switches mostly in these situations, and Wade confirmed that was the plan. Both Nowitzki and Harrison Barnes stepped up to screen Butler depending on which way Williams drove. Williams went right, Barnes picking off Butler. With Gibson out and the Mavs not calling timeout, the Bulls weren’t in position to substitute Mirotic. Williams then faced up Mirotic and looked left where Butler and Cristiano Felicio were tied up in screens. He then crossed over and drove to the right and past Mirotic. With Felicio out high with Nowitzki and Michael Carter-Williams in the right corner hugging three-point shooter Seth Curry, Williams had a wide open lane for a layup to tie.
Thus Wade with the Bulls bench yelling for the switch with Williams driving, dropped off Matthews. Felicio was too far away to rotate and Matthews rose up for the three that would be the winner on Williams pass.
“Deron Williams got downhill,” noted Hoiberg. “Dwyane, instinctive player, went over on the help. I know we didn’t rotate over from the top; needed to obviously do a better job of staying in front on the other side. Deron Williams got into the paint, Wes Matthews was back cutting and popped back out and hit the three.”
So it was left to Wade to display his usual sangfroid of a guy who’s seen almost too much.
“It was a bang bang, a lot of communications from the sidelines,” said Wade. “Deron kind of got a step on someone. I was staying home with Wes and kind of got yelled at to my rotation and I got stuck in the middle. Wanted to stay home and don’t want to rotate, but just one of those things. Deron made a great pass and Wes made a great shot; we did our job, switched the pick and rolls the way we wanted to. Unfortunately, he got a step and made our defense move to the point we didn’t necessarily want to, but he did a good job; he got his guy a good shot.
“(When) Jimmy hit the shot,” said Wade, “I think everybody was looking for a timeout. But we still got in our coverages. We knew what we were going to do, so he got a step on a defender and once you do that things break down; that’s the game of basketball.
“We’re just going to move onto the next day,” Wade continued. “You can’t keep getting stressed out or frustrated over and over; it is what is right now. Halfway through the season 21-22; we’ve been going through this all year. I’m too old to be getting frustrated and stressed out by all this. We’ll get back in the next two days and try to figure out how to get a win over Atlanta on the road and move on.
“I’m not in the maddening mode,” added Wade. “You have to understand once you realize who you are you’ll be better off. So I sleep better at night. Once we want to be a better team overall and start winning games like this, and we will, it’s right there for us. There still is a lot of season left and we have to continue to go out there and try to find a way to be better as a team, but not maddening, not frustrating, just taking the hits.”
It’s hardly to suggest Wade doesn’t care; quite the opposite. Perhaps too much.
He was in the shower an untypically long time after the game before meeting the media, obviously trying to wash off the irritation of the defeat and not send a discouraging message to this often fragile team made up of so many youngsters. It’s one reason why the Bulls were so grateful to acquire Wade with his veteran and championship perspective. He’s sustained the towering highs and devastating lows of the game, and he knows also this team needs his guidance.
“As a leader, come in and show your guys how to get better from it and go from there,” said Wade. “We’ve had these conversations all the time; got to learn a lesson. You keep taking bumps like this you either learn the lesson and figure out or don’t learn and continue to do the same thing, keep putting your hand on the hot stove every day.
It sometimes produces that splitting headache.
It did for the Bulls just when they felt again with Butler back from illness and off two good wins that perhaps they could begin to string together some heady success.
The Bulls got off to a good start, leading 28-24 after one quarter going inside to Lopez, who finished the game 10 of 15 shooting. Dallas edged ahead 54-47 at halftime with Butler and Wade a combined five of 15 in the first half while Lopez was seven of nine.
The Mavs, who crushed the Bulls last month in Dallas, opened up a 64-51 lead early in the third quarter. But the Bulls then went to Butler, who carried them back within 76-74 after three with 10 third quarter points. Lopez added another seven. The Bulls seemed primed to take the game, which was getting rough, a Matthews shot on Butler that drew an official review. Though the Bulls in that stretch went ahead 88-85 with 6:50 left on a second Rondo to Felicio lob dunk. Rondo also was making a rare appearance of late playing with Butler and Wade in the fourth quarter. Though it was a 29-21 Mavs bench edge with 12 for J.J. Barea. Barnes led Dallas with 20, Curry had 18 and Matthews 11. Nowitzki had 10 points and 10 rebounds in perhaps his last Chicago appearance, though he has said he probably will play one more season.
The Bulls got a 92-89 lead with 4:10 left on a sharp Doug McDermott cut for a layup on a Butler pass and then tied it at 96 with a minute to on a McDermott floater. He finished with seven points. The Bulls got the Barnes miss they needed for Butler’s go ahead, but then they lost Matthews and proved some 22.8 seconds too soon to celebrate.
“Guarding, at times, we were making stuff up on the defensive end,” said Butler. “Also on the offensive end. We go over every day the scouting report to get ready for these teams. Stuff happens. You get down and have to claw your way back, which we are pretty good at doing that. But we keep putting ourselves in that situation. We have to do better at guarding throughout the entire game. We had lapses. We have to know the situation and know we can’t give up threes, especially on a drive and kick like that. You learn from it, ain’t too much more to say about it.”