Revenge was on the Bulls’ minds but the Charlotte Hornets had no desire in being willfully ignorant, putting themselves in position for another shocking win, this one more definitive than the blowout affair from a week ago.
Capitalizing after every turnover, the Hornets found themselves right at the precipice of another upset, even as the Bulls put forth the effort they claimed was missing in Charlotte.
But it wasn’t until Jeremy Lamb’s corner three bounced off the front rim with the Hornets trailing by three before the Bulls could exhale, slightly, and when Jimmy Butler’s perimeter jumper rolled around and down, a hearty breath was taken by the United Center crowd.
Butler’s jumper with 5.4 seconds left put the capper on a 102-97 win Friday, as he completed a 27-point night where he struggled early but finished making eight of 16 shots from the field and went to the line 14 times, including one trip where he fell on his left wrist and was shaking it on the subsequent free throws.
“I’m fine. If I would’ve dunked the basketball, I wouldn’t have fallen on my wrist,” he joked.
After his 2-7 start, he received necessary encouragement from Derrick Rose, who refused to let him be discouraged by the slow start.
“That’s my point guard telling me to stay aggressive and keep shooting,” Butler said.
As for the late jumper, which hit the glass before sliding in, Butler said, “Shooters’ touch. It’d better went in, that’s what I was thinking. Definitely (a relief).”
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Butler finished what was started by Joakim Noah, who in his return from a one-game knee-induced sabbatical, grabbed 18 rebounds and passed out six assists in 23 minutes, including guarding Hornets center Al Jefferson and helping hold him to six points and five rebounds.
“Just wanted to bring some energy tonight,” said Noah, playing with a heavy heart on the heels of the attacks in Paris, where he lived for 10 years. He checked with family members before the game to ensure their safety.
“It was an important game for us, especially the last time we played this team. We showed some character tonight.”
Noah was part of a bench brigade that brought the energy, along with Taj Gibson and E’Twaun Moore after the starters weren’t producing. And now, especially with Nikola Mirotic back struggling, one has to wonder if Noah will make a return back to the starting lineup given his affect on the club.
“Taj I thought defended great. You always know you’ll get energy from those two guys (Noah and Gibson),” Hoiberg said. “(Noah) had great pop. He had bounce. He was out yelling and screaming at everybody.”
They had trouble tracking Hornets guard Nic Batum, who made his first five triples but missed one with less than a minute remaining in one of their final attempts to make the Bulls do more than sweat.
But the Bulls had to get out of their own way after a disastrous third-quarter where they shot just seven for 22, which accompanied their anemic night from the 3-point line where they hit just four of 16 while the Hornets made 15 of their own, single-handedly keeping the contenders within striking distance and giving them a slight lead at the start of the final stanza.
“Charlotte shot the 3-ball great,” Hoiberg said. “We tried to play tight D. A lot of them were contested. Just a few of them we got lost out there.”
They didn’t make things worse by getting pounded in the paint as they did in the first drubbing, and controlled the boards 57-47 to offset not creating many turnovers and giving up so many 3-pointers.
From there, Moore and Rose keyed a quick run to give them an 82-77 lead, as Moore finished with 11 points and five rebounds, playing key minutes as part of a defensive-minded unit.
Rose missed 10 of his 14 shots but had a key layup late and dished out eight assists, including one to Pau Gasol for a jumper late in the fourth, as Gasol had 19 points and 13 rebounds.
But another slow start almost derailed things until Noah entered midway through the first, and he immediately made an impact, tipping in a Butler miss and displaying his trademark emotion.
Led by Batum, Marvin Williams and Kemba Walker, the Hornets did more than keep things interesting down the stretch, refusing to turn the ball over and playing with poise until the jumpers finally stopped going down on the final possessions.
The Bulls some semblance of payback, but it came much harder than they anticipated.