Apparently it wasn’t too much for the Bulls to put everything on Jimmy Butler’s shoulders.
Walking down Bojan Bogdanovic, he got to the spot he wanted, took the shot he wanted and got the result he desired at the buzzer, hitting a jumper to give the Bulls a 101-99 win over the woeful Brooklyn Nets.
It took 40 points from Butler, 27 in the second half when the game was slipping away from the Bulls against a team they had no business trailing to, including the game-winner to get the Bulls back to .500.
Being mobbed by his teammates as the United Center went into delirium, Butler released emotion that seemed more out of frustration that it took so much to beat a team that isn’t on par with the Bulls talent-wise.
“I think we desperately need every win, not just this one,” said Butler, who added 11 rebounds, four assists and four steals in 38 minutes. “But the way the game was going, I guess I had the hot hand, and coach and players said, ‘Hey, make something happen.’ At the end, I did just that.”
He nailed a go-ahead jumper with 33.7 seconds left, but Brook Lopez dunked it over his brother to tie the game again, setting the stage for Butler to work his magic one more time.
“I said, ‘Get the hell out of his way and let him go to work,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, in a statement Butler wouldn’t mind being framed for future references—as in every game.
A Butler takeover didn’t look likely for most of the night, especially after turning his right ankle on a jumper that caused him to writhe in pain on his way to the bench before returning moments later.
As the Bulls trailed 97-90 with three minutes left, Butler put on his Superman cape and went to work, hitting a triple and then two free throws to make it a manageable deficit with 1:50 left.
Michael Carter-Williams forced a turnover and scored on a layup to tie the game at 97 with 1:22 left, mostly due to the defensive attention paid to Butler
“Be aggressive. Take the shots that the defense gives to you and continue to be you,” Butler said. “When you can’t shoot it, you pass it to the open guy. I pride myself on that too. We learn from it, and we’ll be better.”
With no Dwyane Wade (16 points in 22 minutes) after early in the second half due to migraines, it was solely on Butler to make most of the plays down the stretch, and the Nets kept the Bulls on their heels for nearly the entire night, jumping out to a 9-0 lead, leading to groans all across the United Center.
“They came out and were the aggressors. They took it right to us,” Hoiberg said. “Give them credit, they came out of the gate with fire. It was disappointing to come out in our own building like that.
“We dug ourselves a hole and found some fire and passion in the last four or five minutes. That’s the message, we have to play like that from the opening tip.”
The Nets are, if nothing else, a team that plays hard and will launch threes mercilessly as they have nothing to lose and no expectations on a nightly basis, stripping down their entire operation to start over, figure out what works with what players under a new coach and general manager.
The Bulls have familiar players and a second-year coach in Hoiberg, but still appear no more closer to finding out who they are or what works on a nightly basis—hence the up and down performances.
Brook Lopez dominated the matchup with his brother, scoring 33 with four assists and three rebounds, hitting five 3-pointers that compromised the Bulls’ defense all night.
The Nets made 13 of them, launching from all angles and forced 18 turnovers from the Bulls. Sean Kilpatrick, starting in place of the injured Jeremy Lin, took advantage of increased minutes, scoring 18 with six assists and Randy Foye scored 11 off the bench.
The Bulls could find no such resourcefulness before Butler saved them. Excluding Butler’s 14 for 29 showing, the Bulls shot 35.5 percent and 39.8 overall.
“We can’t go through the motions and expect another team to lay down,” Hoiberg said. “They’re coming out, they’re fighting, they’re coming off a huge win against Charlotte. They had Golden State down 18.”
During one third-quarter stretch, the Bulls had four traveling violations in five possessions—which was followed by the Nets taking a 73-66 lead on a Justin Hamilton triple with four minutes to go in the third quarter.
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The Bulls put together a few decent minutes, forcing some turnovers with pressure from Michael Carter-Williams, 14 straight points from Butler and tied the game at 76 before Foye’s layup gave the Nets a two-point lead to start the fourth.
The Bulls’ first half rivaled their 48-minute showing against the Pacers two nights ago for ugliest showing, as they couldn’t hit a shot and space was impossible to find.
It made life almost miserable for Butler as 15 of his shots came in the first half and he only converted on five of them before the half.
Add to the tough luck misses the Bulls had inside in addition to their customary struggles from the outside, the Nets gained more confidence as the first half went on.
But confidence can only take you so far, as you need a frontline player to take you home. Luckily for the Bulls, they had the frontline player and frontline play, just in the nick of time.