Jimmy Butler caps off monster night with buzzer-beater to give Bulls win over Nets

Jimmy Butler caps off monster night with buzzer-beater to give Bulls win over Nets

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.

How Coby White is putting it all together over most recent hot stretch

USA Today

How Coby White is putting it all together over most recent hot stretch

The shots are starting to fall for Coby White. In seven February games, the Bulls freshly-turned 20-year-old is averaging 17.7 points, 4.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 35.7% from 3-point range (eight attempts per). That’s good news for the Bulls. 

And better is that’s not all that’s going right for White. Yes, consecutive career-high 33-point games — something no rookie reserve has ever done — on cumulative 55% field goal shooting (12-for-22 from deep) will grab eyes, especially on the heels of a frigid stretch between the beginning of February and the All-Star break. But after Sunday’s losing-streak-snapping 126-117 win over Washington, Bulls coach Jim Boylen peeled back the layers of White’s growth.

“I think he's been aggressive in transition, I think his finishing has been terrific, he's had the ball up and out, he's got it out of his stomach, something he's working on,” Boylen said. “I think his work pre-practice, post-practice is paying off.”

And of White’s defense: “We make a defensive (film) edit on Coby after every game. And him and I watch it together… (Early in the season) he had, of his 14 plays on the tape, you know, seven of them were good and seven of them were bad. Now it's like 10 are good and four are bad. He's climbing in that way.

“What he's finding out is: If you get into the game defensively and you follow your assignment and all that, good things happen for you at the other end. It just does. And I think he's locked in that way.”

White’s restricted area finishing has steadily improved over the season (59.3% in February) — he’s getting to the rim and finishing through contact better than ever before (White’s seven free throw attempts versus the Wizards ties a season-high). In transition, he’s a blur running off live rebounds and steals, which could prove a boon for a Bulls team that lives in the fastbreak. His decision-making and ability to change speeds in the halfcourt stand out. Defensively, though not yet perfect, he’s staying more and more connected off-ball, rotating sharply and hunting loose ball recoveries.

If the jumpers are falling, gravy. But the game slowing down for White, and his confidence growing as a result, should excite the Bulls and their fans the most. White, for his part, has learned over the course of a curious rookie campaign to control what he can control.

“It feels good,” White said of his recent red-hot shooting. “But I think now I look at the game differently than I did at the beginning of the year. Now, I just look at the games like I'm gonna go in and play hard on both ends of the court, that's all I'm gonna do. And then control what I can control — I can't control whether I miss or make shots, so. I'm just going out there and playing hard.”

That comes from Boylen, who White lauded for pushing him to continue improving, especially defensively.

“Coach Boylen was preaching to me, you gotta play defense you gotta play defense, so I took it as a challenge. And I feel like I'm continuing to get better at it. I still can get better at it,” White said. “But he pushes me, he pushes me to be a good player, so I can't knock him for that and that's the type of coach I want.”

None of the above (nor Boylen’s unconditional trust in White) has culminated in his first career start, despite clamoring from some media and fans. But perhaps that’s OK. Boylen has often preached White’s increasing comfortability leading the Bulls’ second unit — even injury-ravaged — and that comfort is starting to show up on the floor and in the stat sheet. It speaks to the labeless approach the Bulls have taken to White’s development.

“We got a second group that's playing pretty good again, and we're also melding Coby into that first group at times in the game,” Boylen said when asked if starting White could be a possibility. “So, coming off two 33-point games, I don't know if it makes sense to [start him].”

To that point: White is still getting his fair share of minutes — he played 34 tonight and is averaging 30.6 in February — and a healthy amount of time on the floor staggered alongside Zach LaVine and Tomas Satoransky. White has also played valuable minutes down the stretch of games recently and his usage rate is up to 24.1% over his last seven games. Opportunity comes in many forms.

“I feel like I'm in a good position,” White said. “This year for me wasn't about starting, it wasn't about being this being that, it was just about me getting better over the season. That's the main thing in this league, you just keep getting better. You don't want to be a guy that just stays the same the whole time.”

White certainly hasn't. The overarching point is that nights like tonight (and Saturday against Phoenix) further emphasize how crucial his continued progression will be down the 25-game stretch of this ill-fated Bulls season — whatever form it takes. Talk of a playoff push has noticeably tempered around the United and Advocate Centers, but White’s been the center of plenty of conversations.

“You see how explosive he is,” said LaVine, who’s been highly complimentary of White all year. “Trying to figure out some nicknames for him. Either like propane or gasoline or something like that. His scoring is special. He can do it in a variety of ways. He's finding his rhythm. Kid's good. He's real good.”

If we land on a pseudonym by mid-April, it’d be a welcome sign.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White drops 33 in 2nd straight game


Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White drops 33 in 2nd straight game

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders Podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson and Allana Tachauer discuss Coby White becoming the first Bulls rookie since Michael Jordan to score 30+ points in back-to-back games; LaVine breaking the Bulls record for threes made in a single season; and Dwyane Wade's role in Derrick Jones Jr.'s controversial dunk contest victory.

0:40 - Allana's back and the Bulls losing streak is over

1:10 - White drops 33 points in second straight game

5:30 - Tomas Satoransky records team-high 13 assists

6:45 - Zach LaVine breaks Bulls single-season three-point record

8:35 - Bradley Beal scores 53 points and doesn't get victory

9:45 - Have injuries kept Bulls from reaching their full potential?

11:10 - Should Daniel Gafford start over Wendell Carter Jr.?

14:00 - Pros and cons of playing White and LaVine together

18:25 - Is LaVine in the Bulls long-term future?

20:50 - Injured Bulls look like boy band

22:45 - Did Wade rig dunk contest for Jones Jr.?

25:50 - Does Coby need to start?

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

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