There’s only so many minutes to play in a playoff game, so much energy to expound before the human body says “no”, but Jimmy Butler is taking it upon himself to put more pressure on himself to perform at a higher level.
Yes, the man who has missed a total of 56 seconds of available playing time in the fourth quarter and overtime in the last four games is asking more from himself as the Bulls prepare to travel to Milwaukee to put away the pesky Bucks in Game 6 Thursday.
And if he has to cut back on his offensive production, or at least attention to that end of the floor, so be it. Butler, at least verbally, is taking the mantle of responsibility for the Bulls' lack of energy".
“Be the person to get us going, on both ends, especially the defensive end,” Butler said. “I'm supposed to be the one setting the tone. And I haven't done that and that's the reason we've gotten off to slow starts.”
Khris Middleton has given the Bulls fits, and point guard Michael Carter-Williams had his first good game in Game 5. Butler could wind up defending any one of three Bucks' scorers tomorrow.
“I really do have to get back to it. I'm not saying it because the cameras are on me right now. I'm saying it because that's what it'll take to win. Somebody has to lead us defensively.”
Butler made clear he doesn’t think the Bulls have a leadership problem, and after all, they’re up 3-2 in this series despite the semi-panic that has taken over in assessing this team. But his words about accepting the pressure and leading the Bulls at least gives way to the belief that something is missing.
“I have to be a better leader. I think I'm shying back on some aspects of the game,” Butler said. “I don't think there's a leadership void. I think everybody needs to be more of a leader. Not just one guy but everybody.”
Butler only trails LeBron James, James Harden, Anthony Davis and Stephen Curry in terms of playoff scoring at 26.6 points a game, so if he’s reallocating his energy, someone will have to pick up the slack.
“I guess give some to take some,” Butler said. “I think we score the ball well enough. If I give all my energy on defense and get some stops, the other four guys will score.”
Pau Gasol has stated ad nauseam about the Bulls’ slow starts and lack of aggression to start games, as the Bucks’ energy and athleticism always seems to catch the Bulls by surprise, so Butler claims he’s going to do something about it.
He didn’t agree with the assertion that the Bulls’ defense has gotten soft, but nobody can deny the Bucks have played tougher and more aggressive in the last two games at the very least.
“Non-aggressive, inconsistent, there's a lot of words besides soft,” Butler said.
After talks with his brother and trainer, Butler came to the conclusion that he has to single-handedly match what the Bucks are doing instinctively defensively, with the hopes his teammates will follow.
“You can sit here and say we have to do this, we gotta block out, we have to rebound, we gotta guard,” Butler said. “But if I'm saying it and not doing it, ain't nobody paying attention to it. So If I'm preaching it and showing I'm capable of doing it, everybody will follow suit.”
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Perhaps his disastrous Game 5 on offense brought on the self-reflection, where he shot 5-for-21 in 46 minutes, giving life to the old-but-new concerns about his playing time (averaging 44.2 minutes this series). And the Bucks have said, albeit quietly, that Butler looks worn down in the fourth quarter.
“They don’t know how I feel. They’re not in my skin or my shoes,” Butler said. “I’m in great enough shape where I can handle the heavy minutes. I never complain. And I’ve got to produce, heavy minutes or not. I got to make shots, make plays happen.’’
He played all of the fourth quarter and two overtimes in Game 3, and sat for 56 seconds in the fourth quarter of Game 4. He says it’s affected him, although not the way people have claimed.
“I do, but not because of the minutes. I’m in a different role,” Butler said. “I think teams have to scout me and be ready for what I bring to the table, and I think that wears down more than anything, that they know where I’m going to get the ball and things like that. But that’s part of the game. I’m not tired. Like I said, I’ve got to produce. That’s all I’m worried about on the floor.’’