Bulls

Jimmy Butler carries Bulls on both ends: 'The great ones want all that on their plate'

Jimmy Butler carries Bulls on both ends: 'The great ones want all that on their plate'

Through 57 games Jimmy Butler has battled through various injuries, silenced the outside whispers of trade talks, and met questions about his leadership inside the Bulls’ locker room head on. Through all that noise the 27-year-old has emerged as one of the game’s best players, an honor which will be validated Sunday night when he starts in the All-Star Game alongside the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.

But before shipping off to New Orleans for the weekend Butler had business to finish in Chicago. Specifically, the three-time All-Star was tasked with shutting down fourth-quarter sensation Isaiah Thomas on one end, while acting as the go-to scorer down the stretch on the offensive end.

And though it didn’t end in a dazzling buzzer beater or one of his vintage lockdown defensive stands, Butler did it once again for the Bulls, adding another highlight to an already remarkable season in the Bulls’ 104-103 victory over the red-hot Celtics.

Marcus Smart nicked Butler on his shooting elbow with 0.9 seconds remaining and the Bulls trailing by one. Butler, who had made 43 of 44 clutch free throws this season, calmly sank a pair of freebies to give the Bulls a lead. And it was he who defended Al Horford’s shot at the buzzer that missed long and sealed the Bulls’ victory in the NBA’s final game before the All-Star break.

“I was still hoping it went in,” Butler said after the game. “We ran it the way we were supposed to. We got the look that we wanted. I told Jerian (Grant) what move I was gonna do, and (Smart) got a piece of the elbow. At the end of the day (referee Zach Zarba) made the right call.”

Butler’s late drawn foul and subsequent free throws were the end result of a masterful fourth quarter. And the competition he did it against couldn’t have been a more difficult matchup. Boston entered Thursday’s game having won 11 of 12, and leading scorer Isaiah Thomas had averaged 32.6 points and nearly 4 triples per game in February. More than that, Thomas entered averaging 10.7 points per fourth quarter, the highest mark since the NBA began tracking the stat in 1996.

That made the Bulls’ situation all the more perilous when Brad Stevens subbed Thomas in with 8:47 remaining and the Bulls clinging to a one-point lead. Fred Hoiberg countered with bringing back Butler, who drew the arduous assignment of guarding Thomas down the stretch.

"That was kind of our plan going in, that Michael (Carter-Williams) was going to spend the majority of the time on (Thomas). And then Jimmy in the fourth quarter was going to be the guy that we were going to switch on to him. (Thomas is) just such a tough cover,” Fred Hoiberg said of Thomas, who is second in the NBA in scoring, “the way he finishes over size, he pulls up from anywhere on the court, has unlimited range and does a great job getting to the free throw line.”

Thomas was every bit as good as advertised in the final stanza, Of the final 19 points the Celtics scored in the final frame, Thomas had a hand in 16 of them, with 11 points and two assists to Kelly Olynyk on a pair of jumpers. But Butler made Thomas work for his points, chasing around the 5-foot-9 point guard and forcing him into passes or quick shots. With the Celtics up one with 1:10 remaining Butler blocked a Thomas layup attempt. The next trip down Butler also closed out on Thomas’ left wing 3-pointer which was off the mark and set up the Bulls’ game winning possession.

“He’s a lot to deal with,” Butler said bluntly after the game.

But defense was only half the story. Playing without Dwyane Wade for the third straight game, the Bulls offense minus Butler was crawling to the finish line. After beginning the fourth quarter 4-for-9 from the field, hanging on to a lead built up with a 29-point third quarter, the Bulls finished the game 1-for-8, with Butler’s bank shot to tie the game at 94 apiece the lone make at the 4:58 mark.

It was just enough offense to get it done, just as Smart got just enough of Butler’s elbow to draw a whistle. Butler initiated offense, found open shooters (despite the misses) and finished with nine points of his own in the final period, essentially matching Thomas as best he could.

And with the game on the line Butler made his free throws look anything but pressure-filled.

“In a time like that I do it all the time in the gym by myself before the game,” he said. “Nothing. No pressure.”

As far as basketball clichés go, “two-way players” can often get overused. But it’s exactly what Butler was on Thursday, carrying an offense while shadowing the league’s second-leading scorer the final 9 minutes of the game. Butler, who finished with 29 points on 9-for-20 shooting and seven assists, has transformed himself into one of the game’s best players, but Thursday he looked like a true superstar, taking over the game and stepping up when it mattered most.

“It’s what he wants. And really it’s what the great players want,” Hoiberg said. “Looking back in the history, the great ones want all that on their plate. Jimmy’s no exception. He’s a guy that’s going to go out and take the challenge, anything that’s given to him. And it pays off more often than not.”

Thursday night was also important for a Bulls team caught in between contending in the East and tearing it all down in place of a rebuild. The outcome – it was also the Bulls’ 17th consecutive TNT Thursday home win – won’t make the decisions Gar Forman and John Paxson make this week toward the trade deadline any easier.

The Bulls have won two straight – against the Raptors and Celtics, no less – and have an impressive 9-8 record against the six teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference. Though the Bulls enter the All-Star break with a losing record for the first time since 2010 and have far more questions than answers on their roster, they’re also on track to make the postseason in the subpar bottom half of the East.

No matter who’s dealt or brought in before the Feb. 23 trade deadline, with Butler leading the way the Bulls will always feel as though they have a chance to win games. It showed Thursday against a Celtics team that’s inching closer to the Cavs atop that Eastern Conference. And barring a blockbuster deal that sends Butler to the team he tormented for 40 minutes on Thursday, the Bulls will have that player as they continue their push toward .500 and a postseason berth.

“It just shows that we’re capable of winning games. Moving forward we can’t worry about who we’re beating. We’ve got to go against everybody the same,” Butler said. “Home away, neutral site, whatever it may be: win. That’s all that matters."

Bulls' guard Tomas Satoransky and his never-ending pursuit of perfection

Bulls' guard Tomas Satoransky and his never-ending pursuit of perfection

Tomas Satoransky is a perfectionist and a pleaser.

This can be a positive thing. It also can be negative.

“Everyone who is close to me will tell you that I’m hardest on myself. I always expect to play the best,” Satoransky said in an interview. “I always expect to be perfect, which isn’t always the best but in the long term it has always worked out for me.”

That’s because perfection is an unattainable quest. But Satoransky keeps working towards the unachievable goal. So he’s driven, which is good, but sometimes self-destructive, which isn’t.

Early on, as Satoransky slowly adjusted to a new city, new coach, new teammates and new system, the process didn’t go smoothly.

“I didn’t feel down. I felt frustrated and anxious to do better, anxious to help the team as much as he can,” coach Jim Boylen said when asked if he sensed frustration from Satoransky. “He really struggles when he lets the team down. That’s just basketball. You’re not going to play perfect all the time. He takes it to heart. I’ve spoken to him about it. I don’t need him to beat himself up. Just continue to grow and learn how we’re going to play and get used to guys. It does take some time to get a feel for each other.”

And it’s happening. Satoransky has posted nine straight games with at least five assists, the second-longest stretch of his young career. Coincidentally, his assist totals began to rise the more he looked for his shot.

“I think there’s a point where you make other people better, which he tries to do, and a point where you have to play your game. I think he’s starting to figure that out,” Boylen said. “I think he’s starting to understand where his spots are and how he makes people better but also doesn’t lose the positive things he can do individually.”

The selflessness of Satoransky is something that gets mentioned often by others when they’re asked about him. He’s someone who takes the time to read a situation before asserting himself, always trying to make the right play.

This dynamic was exacerbated by Satoransky not only joining a new team but doing so after playing a leading role for his Czech Republic national team at the FIBA World Cup this offseason.

“I think I’m very adaptable. But I won’t aggressively adapt. I’ll try to see what it is---new coaches, new offense---before asserting myself,” Satoransky said. “I knew I had to be patient, especially with a new team, new role. I’m also coming from a very different situation in the World Cup. And I’m trying to fit in and make my teammates feel the best and most comfortable around me. But I’m trying to be more aggressive because it opens up more space.

“I feel we’re more and more on the same page now.”

Satoransky’s averages of 9.6 points, 5.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds in 27.1 minutes are eerily similar to those he posted last season with the Wizards, his breakout season. In 80 games, including 54 starts for the injured John Wall, he averaged 8.9 points, 5 assists and 3.5 rebounds also in 27.1 minutes.

He’s shooting 39.7 percent on 3 3-point attempts per game---again very similar to last season’s 39.5 percent on 2 3-point attempts per game.

“I tell him he has to take his shots. He’s a threat,” Zach LaVine said. “He can shoot and create for others. Once he gets in the lane, he’s crafty. He isn’t just a spot-up 3-point shooter.”

Satoransky is in the first year of a three-year, $30 million deal that is only partially guaranteed in the final season. He said he is enjoying Chicago and playing for the Bulls.

“Everyone cares. We get along well,” Satoransky said. “This is my second NBA locker room, but I think this is one of the best groups I’ve had.”

Now, he just wants to improve the won-lost record to something closer to perfection.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls lose to Warriors for 2nd time in 10 days

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USA TODAY

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls lose to Warriors for 2nd time in 10 days

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 100-98 loss to the Warriors

0:45 - Reaction to loss and Bulls losing to Warriors again

2:30 - On 4th quarter struggles

3:30 - On Zach LaVine’s game-winning shot attempt

5:20 - Viewer comments on Coby White starting

9:20 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine leads to Matt rant

10:20 - Viewer comment on Wendell Carter

12:10 - Viewer comment on Sato needing to be more aggressive

13:30 - Viewer comment on Luke Kornet

16:35 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine talking trash to Warriors

18:00 - On LaVine not being the issue

19:00 - On Otto Porter’s injury and being out indefinitely

22:10 - Viewer comment on Bulls being contenders

23:50 - Viewer comment asking why Matt is always angry

24:50 - Viewer asking Sabine how he feels about the Bears beating the Cowboys

26:20 - Which team is more likely to make playoffs, Bears or Bulls?

 Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders

Subscribe:

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

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.