Bulls

Smith answers the Cavaliers' call in Game 4 '9-1-1 situation'

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Smith answers the Cavaliers' call in Game 4 '9-1-1 situation'

Trailing by seven on the road and 12 minutes away from facing a likely insurmountable 3-1 series deficit to the Bulls, the Cavaliers were looking for any kind of spark.

And already playing without Kevin Love, the options looked bleak for David Blatt's group. LeBron James had two more field goal (7) than he did turnovers (5). Kyrie Irving had been a non-factor dealing with a right foot strain. Iman Shumpert had gone 1-for-6 from the field, and big men Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov, though efficient, weren't primary options against a Pau Gasol-less Bulls frontcourt.

So with their backs against the wall and little momentum on their side in front of a sold out United Center, the Cavaliers dialed up their streakiest shooter.

"We got J.R. Smith for the 9-1-1 situations," Iman Shumpert said with a laugh. "Thank God for J.R. Smith."

Smith responded with his best performance of the series, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the final quarter to help Cleveland overcome that deficit before James connected on a buzzer-beater to even the series with an 86-84 victory.

[RELATED: LeBron's buzzer beater evens series with Bulls]

The reserve guard, who was suspended for Games 1 and 2, had only played 24 minutes through three quarters as Blatt searched for defensive matchups to hide the ailing Irving. With Irving unable to guard Derrick Rose, that shifted the responsibility of defending the Game 3 hero to Shumpert, with James defending Jimmy Butler and Irving matched up on Mike Dunleavy or Kirk Hinrich.

But after the Cavaliers shot just 5-for-20 in the third quarter, including four misses from Smith, Blatt opted for a smaller lineup that included Smith. He connected on his first attempt, a step back jumper over the outstretched arm of Nikola Mirotic to cut the deficit to five. After a pair of Mozgov free throws Smith drained a 3-pointer to tie the game at 68 and cap off an 11-0 Cavs run.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Shortly after he connected on back-to-back triples that pushed the Cavs' lead to three as part of a 23-5 run that had Cleveland out in front by seven with 4 minutes to play. And though the Bulls came charging back to tie the game with 9 second left before James' heroics, Smith's perfect 4-for-4 shooting in the quarter gave the Cavaliers that second scorer that Irving, in his limited state, weren't able to provide. Smith's timely shooting came on an afternoon when the Cavaliers went 5-for-25 from beyond the 3-point line, including just 2 of 19 in the first three quarters. Smith was 0-for-3 from deep at that point, but it didn't sway him against continuing to find his shot.

"I just keep shooting, regardless. I could’ve gone 0-for-15 in the first half, came out in the second half and still going to shoot," Smith said after the game. "That’s just who I am. Getting good looks, teammates finding me and I’ve just got to make shots. This is a series where (the Bulls) like to pack it in, so in those situations you’ve got to come up big."

[BULLS PGL: What went wrong in Game 4 loss to Cavs?]

Smith will play a large role in the series' final two or three games. With Irving hobbled the Cavaliers will look to Smith and his streaky shooting to act as a second option offensively. It's a position he's comfortable with, and he showed off his ability to hit in clutch moments after his 3-pointer in the closing seconds of Game 3 tied things up. That supporting cast will look to complement James as best they can, in hopes of not having the four-time MVP shoot 30 times a game like he did Sunday afternoon.

"I think that’s our job," Smith admitted. "Myself, (Shumpert), everybody else, we’ve got to chip in some way and somehow, whether it’s shots, steals, rebounds, loose balls, whatever. So much pressure is put on those guys’ shoulders, we’ve got to do whatever we can to lift it off a little bit."

Sunday Smith provided that lift, and it may have saved the series.

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”

With Bulls-Timberwolves looming, Jimmy Butler is diagnosed with meniscus injury

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USA TODAY

With Bulls-Timberwolves looming, Jimmy Butler is diagnosed with meniscus injury

Jimmy Butler won't be facing the Bulls a second time this season.

Butler suffered a non-contact knee injury on Friday night in Houston. The initial X-ray only revealed he didn't have any broken bones, but the MRI had to wait until Saturday.

The Timberwolves announced that the MRI revealed a meniscus injury in Butler's right knee. There is not yet word on how long the All-Star guard will be out of action, but if it wasn't already assumed that he wouldn't play against the Bulls, it's now certain.

Avoiding the ACL tear means avoiding the worse case scenario, but this is likely still going to cause Butler to miss a significant amount of time with about a quarter of the regular season remaining. An update from Shams Charania of The Vertical said Butler could return for the postseason.

The Bulls take on the Timberwolves on Saturday night. Butler dropped 38 points at the United Center in his return to Chicago exactly two weeks ago, but the Bulls won 114-113.

Butler posted on Instagram a reaction to the injury.

Saturday's game will be the returns of Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn to Minnesota after they went the other direction in the Butler trade on draft night last June.