Bulls: 'Tired' Jimmy Butler begs for, wins review in first game back


Bulls: 'Tired' Jimmy Butler begs for, wins review in first game back

TORONTO, ONT— Jimmy Butler was like a man begging for his woman to come back before she walked out the door—except the subject in question was official Ken Mauer, who initially didn’t see fit to hear Butler’s pleas as Butler said his strip of DeMar DeRozan’s drive went off DeRozan’s leg, not Butler’s hands with less than a second remaining.

As Mauer began to relent, Butler headed to the other officials to lay his case out. The game was on the line and the Bulls needed this call to be reviewed.

“Somebody was gonna review it,” said Butler with a hint of a chuckle. “I was gonna hold the ball until someone reviewed it. I don’t know. They reviewed it at the end of the day because I know it was off him.”

Appeal reviewed, call overturned.

Bulls win—and some slight but expected grimaces from Butler as he talked with media.

“Yeah, yes. I think my knee is gonna be banged up a bit,” Butler said. “Gotta learn to live with it. Get my wind back, Gotta get in the gym, get my rhythm back. It’s all a process.”

[MORE: Bulls earn important victory, keep Raptors on notice in the process]

In Butler’s first game back from a somewhat-scary absence, punctuated by a trip to Dr. James Andrews in Florida to check out his strained left knee, Butler didn’t put up super numbers, and Fred Hoiberg said he would adhere to a plan with Butler—although nobody knew what exactly the plan was.

“Tired man, tired. I’m out of shape,” Butler said. “That’s fine, though. I got a couple days to get it back. As long as we keep winning, tired or not, I’m happy.”

He’ll certainly improve on his performance, shooting 5-for-18 and missing both of his free throws in 33 minutes of play. Those minutes came in six-to-seven minute intervals where Butler didn’t appear to be overextended physically, even though the total number wasn’t far off from the 34 he played against Houston last Saturday night.

“A win is a win, no matter how (expletive) I played,” Butler said. “I think we did our job. At the end of the day, we won on the road. Big win. I’m proud of how we got this one.”

They got the 109-107 win over the Toronto Raptors by strong contributions from Nikola Mirotic, E’Twaun Moore and Doug McDermott, as the Bulls were without Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose.

Mirotic and Moore scored 17 each, while McDermott came off the bench to lead the Bulls with 29.

“That credits our guys. Everybody stepping into a new role,” Butler said. “Doug’s playing extremely well, E’Twaun, Niko. Those guys are the reason we won.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Hoiberg, the man who has to balance Butler’s well-being for the long-term with the All-Star’s desire to play every minute, body be damned, said Butler’s presence buoyed the team defensively and intangibly.

“Absolutely. Jimmy gives this team a big lift when he’s in the lineup,” Hoiberg said. “That was a huge play by Jimmy. Coming down, he made one of the two free throws. Made a heck of a play on the ball. He stayed on his hip and made a great defensive play.”

The play helped lift the Bulls to their most inspiring win of the season against a likely opponent but in an unlikely fashion—and the Bulls hope and pray Butler will be around for the long haul.

So does he, body be damned.

“That’s cool, for right now,” Butler said of his knee. “We’ll see when my body cools down. But I’m alright.”

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction


Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks


Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”