Bulls go up 2-0 on Bucks thanks to big game from Jimmy Butler


Bulls go up 2-0 on Bucks thanks to big game from Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler motioned for a posting Nikola Mirotic to get out of the way, giving the appearance he was headed to the basket when in reality, he just wanted a better view of the basket.

Perhaps feeling the energy in the building after he was cascaded with MVP chants midway through the fourth, he launched a classic “bad shot, good shot” that fell, three of his 14 fourth-quarter points as the Bulls began to pull away Monday night.

What began as a classic letdown game ended with the Bulls surviving and putting themselves halfway to the second round with a 91-82 win at the United Center, taking a 2-0 lead while holding serve at home.

What did they survive? Well, let’s see.

An 11-point first quarter, a game where Derrick Rose started 0-for-7 and Butler missed his first six three-point attempts.

There’s more.

They survived Taj Gibson, one of the unsung heroes in the opener, picking up three fouls in five minutes, rendering himself useless in the first half.

[WATCH: Butler puts Pachulia on poster with huge dunk]

And of their 15 turnovers, seven occurred in the first quarter when they couldn’t get anything going.

All of that was forgotten when Rose, who rebounded to hit four of his last eight to score 15 with nine assists and seven rebounds in 38 minutes, hit a step-back contested jumper with 54.5 seconds remaining to finally close the door on a Bucks’ threat.

The headliner on this night was Butler, who scored a playoff career-high 31 points (21 in the second half), after initially setting that mark with 25 in the opener. Two of his points in the fourth came on a rim-rattling dunk over Bucks center Zaza Pachulia

“That one dunk was definitely huge. It gave us some confidence as a team,” Noah said. “After that he was really feeling himself.”

That was the flash, but the substance occurred minutes earlier when the Bulls actually trailed 74-71 early in the fourth as the Bucks went on a 6-0 run to start the period, before Butler launched his first of three made triples to tie the game.

“We wanted him to work the game,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought he had good shots (early). The movement was better in the second half.”

He tattooed his name on the fourth quarter by scoring 10 in a 13-0 Bulls run over the next three minutes.

[MORE: Tensions rise in Game 2 between Bucks, Bulls]

“I was just being aggressive. Jo and Derrick were telling me to score,” Butler said. “Telling me to shoot and not to pass up any shots. I was feeling it a little bit.”

Bucks coach Jason Kidd intimated the game was too pretty in the opener, words seem to foreshadow what was to come, when he said the Bucks’ early scoring in Game 1 was “fool’s gold”, and aside from Khris Middleton scoring 22, offense was hard to come by for the Bucks, who shot just 36 percent from the field.

The Bucks challenged everything from the start, though, getting up in the Bulls’ faces from the moment they crossed halfcourt. And when the Bulls actually had the space to create or execute, they either saw ghosts or lost concentration, unable to take advantage of any opening.

“The game was like we wanted it in the first quarter,” Kidd said. “It was at our pace — ugly and slow.”

It led to the Bulls shooting just 24 percent in the first quarter, creating the vision that a letdown could be forthcoming.

Luckily, they dragged the Bucks in the muck with them, not allowing the inexperienced team to get too far ahead. They controlled the boards, as Noah grabbed 19 in 32 minutes and Gasol didn’t let the endless double-teams discourage him, grabbing 16 rebounds in 33 minutes to help the Bulls to a 64-48 edge.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

There was plenty of muck, as both teams realized the pleasantries of the regular season was no longer necessary, as there were multiple skirmishes, resulting with an ejection for Bucks irritant Zaza Pachulia in the fourth quarter after an altercation with Mirotic—which could have consequences as Mirotic sustained a left quad strain and there’s concern about a possible concussion.

“It’s an emotional game,” Thibodeau said. “I want us to play with toughness but I also want us to play smart. So where do you stop? You stop right before it becomes physical.”

It wasn’t going to last long, as the Bulls were due for some execution, and scored 60 points in the two middle quarters—with a lot of help from Mike Dunleavy, who helped loosen up the Bucks defense with four three-pointers, including two late in the first half as the Bulls were reeling a bit.

But reeling a bit only matters but so much if you have closers on your side to take care of things late—the Bulls were just fortunate things didn’t get too far out of their reach on this night.

3 things about Bulls' new executive Arturas Karnisovas that stand out

3 things about Bulls' new executive Arturas Karnisovas that stand out

The Bulls are on the cusp of officially naming just their third head of basketball operations since Jerry Reinsdorf and a group of investors purchased the team in 1985.

So, who is Arturas Karnisovas? That's a question at the front of many Bulls fans' minds as they picture a brighter future for an organization currently mired in a meandering rebuild.

NBC Sports Chicago Bulls Insider K.C. Johnson has spent time getting to the bottom of that very question.

From Johnson, when asked his impressions of Karnisovas on the latest Bulls Talk Podcast:

What I would say is three things have stood out in, really, every conversation I've had about him. These three themes have jumped out.

He's a very inclusive person. He seeks collaboration and input from a wide variety of people. He grew up in the Houston Rockets franchise, Daryl Morey is big on that concept as is Tim Connelly in Denver, so he's kind of known that with his other front office structures. Which is why I'm excited to see who he brings with him, because I think there's potential to really modernize this Bulls front office, which frankly has lagged behind today's modern NBA for some time now.

And the other two things that jump out consistently with literally every conversation I've had about him are his international relationships and connections. I mean he knows basically everybody, seemingly, in the basketball world. He could walk into any gym in any country and feel comfortable. And that extends beyond the Lithuanian aspect, I mean, he ran Basketball Without Borders for the NBA, so he could go into a gym in Africa and, you know, get a shoutout from somebody. He just seems like he's somebody who's very comfortable in his own skin.

And then, the last thing that I think is important about him is his organizational detail. Tim Connelly is very known around the NBA for being a really frenetic presence, a really energetic and kind of — I don't want to say chaotic, because that sounds negative and it's not — I mean, he's just a very fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants, bounce things off the wall kind of thing. And it's been successful, I'm not being critical, he's an incredible executive. My point is Arturas was kind of the stoic, behind the scenes organizer and Tim Connelly has said this on the record, so, I mean, I think the fact that you have somebody who's detail-oriented and an organizer, especially if he surrounds himself with the right people, could bode well for the Bulls moving forward.

Indeed, Karnisovas is one of the most well-respected veteran executives in the league. After playing collegiately at Seton Hall, enjoying a decorated professional career overseas and making two Olympics appearances, he worked for the NBA league office on international projects and as an international scout for the Rockets before moving to the Nuggets. The Nuggets promoted Karnisovas to general manager in 2017 after he had interviews for the Bucks and Nets' general manager positions. 

Now, the keys to the Bulls are his, with impending decisions on subsequent hires in the front office and coaching staff looming. By all accounts, his aptitude and reputation should inspire optimism. 

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5 key moves the Nuggets made during Arturas Karnisovas' tenure

5 key moves the Nuggets made during Arturas Karnisovas' tenure

The Bulls have their man. After two successful virtual interviews, the Bulls are in advanced negotiations to make Denver Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas the team's new head of basketball operations.

Karnisovas comes to Chicago with a sterling reputation as a talent evaluator, communicator and basketball thinker. His track record as an international scout with the Houston Rockets and as both an assistant GM and GM in Denver reflects that.

Let's examine some of the most notable moves the Nuggets made during Karnisovas' tenure with the team:

5 keys moves the Nuggets made during Arturas Karnisovas' tenure

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Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.