BOSTON, MA — Jimmy Butler took awhile before meeting with the media after Wednesday’s loss to the Boston Celtics because of a pressing matter, a meeting of the minds of sorts.
It wasn’t with any of his teammates, but with his coach, Fred Hoiberg, who disregarded Butler’s suggestion that he stay in to start the fourth quarter as opposed to Hoiberg giving him a brief rest.
The opening minutes saw the Celtics take a 12-2 run to create some distance in what was a tie game to start the fourth, as Butler couldn’t get to the scorer’s table fast enough to get checked back in.
The damage had been done, and the 17 of Butler’s career-high 36 points all went for naught, prompting Butler to say “I don't give a damn about a career high. I want to win”.
“I told Fred not to take me out at the beginning of the fourth,” Butler said. “I wanted to play. Because that's when we give up those leads. Nothing against my teammates, but if I'm out there and I get the energy going the right way, now take me out and let me rest. But the energy is going and flowing. I gotta start playing in the fourth quarter.”
Things fell apart almost immediately, even though Butler came in at the 9:15 mark with the score 83-77 and the Bulls still had several more empty possessions upon Butler’s re-entrance.
“I can handle an extra 45 seconds to a minute (of playing time),” Butler said. “Just let me get the energy going, get a stop here or there and get us going in the right direction.”
Butler is averaging 37.2 minutes per night and Wednesday was the front end of a road-home back-to-back as the Bulls will play the L.A. Clippers at the United Center, so it’s not as if Hoiberg is skimping Butler on the playing time.
But what’s clear is the Bulls’ margin for error — with Derrick Rose still dealing with the recovery from eye surgery, the Bulls being without veteran Mike Dunleavy and the team acclimating to Hoiberg’s new system — is very slim, if not downright nonexistent.
“It's very small. Very small,” Butler said somberly. “The people we have on this team are good at a lot of things and bad at some things, so you gotta cover that up. When you make a mistake, another team is gonna capitalize on that.
“We get a turnover and then we don't get back. 18 turnovers, 25 points? That can't happen. If you get a turnover, get back. Get the ball back. We can't just look and put our head down. Our margin for error is way too small.”
Butler’s reference to one-way players isn’t exactly off, and it places more of a pressure on him to hold things together while the team figures itself out. In the adjusting to Hoiberg’s system, Butler and many others have wondered if the Bulls en masse have forgotten what made this team formidable.
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“Yeah. I think sometimes we forget how hard we gotta play and guys let up and one guy does it, it's contagious,” Butler said. “We gotta go hard on both ends of the floor and not just worry about offense, to win these games we gotta learn to guard late in the game.”
Hoiberg has been harping on the pace of play as a main point while many like Butler and Rose have openly talked about defense being the calling card that will keep things afloat until the team settles.
“Looking at every guy on our roster, we're good. Really good,” Butler said. “But when we get out there and go to work, it's not saying that. That's why numbers don't mean anything in this damn league. We get caught up in that too many times, in the hype and freedom in our offense when we gotta get stops when our defense has to lead our offense.”
If it was an illustration on the Bulls’ dependence on Butler that Hoiberg hadn’t yet discovered, perhaps the loss can be a liftoff point to move forward.
“I've told him and that's what I was back there telling him about, it's a learning curve for him like it is for me,” Butler said. “But we gotta win games if we want to find ourselves in the postseason.
“It's not just on him, it's on us. He can do all the rah-rahing and talking he wants to do. He's not out there playing. it's on us to bring ourselves together. We're supposed to be a team full of leaders. We gotta win games. The coach don't win the games, the players do.”