DENVER — Fred Hoiberg fell on the sword in the aftermath of the Bulls’ puzzling loss to the Denver Nuggets, when he couldn’t find a way to get his hottest player the ball cleanly when the Bulls had a chance to win.
“I put this on me,” Hoiberg said following the Bulls’ 110-107 decision at the Pepsi Center. “I gotta get us a better look at the end of the game.”
The look was an Isaiah Canaan leaning triple that came up way short, a play where Canaan was apparently the third option. Jimmy Butler, the man with 35 points, was the first.
But perhaps trying to be too cute with a play call late as opposed to giving Butler the ball in a traditional open-floor setup, Butler didn’t even have the opportunity to decide whether the Bulls won or lost.
“It was a call for Jimmy, but they took away the first option,” Hoiberg said. “Isaiah was coming off the crack back and was wide open when he came off, but the play was for Jimmy.”
No less than three times did Hoiberg say the phrase, “it’s on me,” a phrase that wasn’t often said last season when things started out promising but ended up being disastrous.
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Butler, like everyone else in a Bulls jersey, was a bit shocked at how things played out in the waning seconds. But in the locker room afterwards, they presented a united front, standing behind their coach and not allowing him to put the blame on his shoulders.
Butler chose to point to the Bulls blowing a big lead in the second quarter after looking so professional early. If Hoiberg broke his mild-mannered veneer in support of his players over the weekend late in their loss to the Clippers, the players seemed to return the favor after this loss.
“I don’t think so,” said Butler when told of Hoiberg’s comments. “He wasn’t the one out there that gave up the lead. He wasn’t the one turning over the ball, not getting back. I don’t think it was on him. He put us in a great position to win the game. At times we didn’t do what we were supposed to do. It’s on us as men.”
Butler went as far as to praise his teammates and coaching staff, as the NBA’s reigning player of the week put together another banner performance that was worthy of him earning the right to the Bulls’ winning or losing.
“(I) made some shots, got to the free-throw line. It wasn’t enough in the end,” Butler said. “It happens. It happens in this league. It’s a long season. With these guys, these coaches, I’m going to war with them every night.”
Butler’s locker was far down from Dwyane Wade’s, but he sat next to Wade before speaking to the media, with Wade listening close by in support of a frustrated teammate who wanted the win.
“There’s no pointing any fingers,” Wade said. “Individually, you’re going to be a little harder on yourself, and in the moment coach is going to be harder on himself. Jimmy is going to be harder on himself and vice-versa. This is a together group, and we enjoy playing together. When that’s the case you can lose together and win together.”