Bulls

Jimmy Butler pulls Bulls into three-way tie with third straight win

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USA TODAY

Jimmy Butler pulls Bulls into three-way tie with third straight win

Jimmy Butler stood at the line, showered with adoration from a suddenly engaged United Center crowd, encouraged with letters he probably never imagined possible, in a situation he only dreamed to be in.

Two free throws as twenty thousand chanted "M-V-P" for the man who scored 25 of his 33 points in the second half as he didn't get a moment's rest, the man who had to defend Tim Hardaway on the game's final play as a triple went off the back iron with 2.1 seconds left.

Butler literally willed the Bulls to a 106-104 win over the Atlanta Hawks Saturday afternoon, their third straight victory, pulling them to a three-way tie with the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat for seventh place in the Eastern Conference—with the Bulls holding the tiebreaker over both.

"He was phenomenal," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We got down 10 and we just kept fighting. Jimmy did everything again. He just found a way to get to the basket, had ten free throws and made them all."

And what's more frightening for the Bulls, this game over the Hawks is the last against a team with a winning record, meaning the season and their playoff chances are in their hands.

Or more specifically, Butler's hands, as long as his legs can hold up playing 42 grueling minutes.

The margins are thin, especially with Dwyane Wade out and the Bulls turning into a different team on the fly. Nikola Mirotic's March to remember made an April fool out of those who expected it to extend, as he hit two of eight from the field—but one was a big triple in the fourth.

Even Butler's last-second heroics was on a play that seemed broken, with Hawks swingman Kent Bazemore doing everything right on the possession: Not giving Butler any airspace, shadowing his right hand and keeping him for going downhill—until he got a little too aggressive on Butler's desperate long two-pointer, fouling him on the arm.

Butler, averaging 27.8 points, 9.3 assists and 6.5 rebounds on 55 percent shooting in his last six games, stepped forward again.

"I wouldn't call it pressure; I always look at it like nobody picked us to be in the playoffs, nobody picked us to win, anyway," Butler said. "I'm just out there playing basketball. I want to win; everybody knows that. I'm just doing what everybody asked me to do, so to speak."

If the free throws are any indication, if the Bulls' comeback from down 89-79 after leading by 10 in the third is another one, the Bulls could be discovering some much needed resolve with six games remaining.

Denzel Valentine hit two triples after the Bulls came out of the subsequent timeout trailing by 10, the last where he passed up kicking it to Butler on the wing on a fast break.

"It shows you what type of kid he is, the confidence he has in himself," Hoiberg said of Valentine, who scored 13 points.

Butler didn't mind the confidence and Hoiberg admired the moxie, as Valentine hit two of the Bulls' 12 triples—a team that's suddenly a 3-point threat after being woefully futile for most of the season.

Continuing a trend after his post-All Star slump, Butler seemingly had enough energy down the stretch to lift the Bulls. Getting to the lane for a layup and then hitting a clear-out triple to tie the game at 102 with two minutes left, it seemed like he was going to have to make every big play late.

"No disrespect to my teammates or anybody, but Fred said, ‘are you tired?' I said no," Butler said. "I want to play, I want to be the reason we win."

With a game against the New Orleans Pelicans Sunday afternoon on the road, the Bulls could be too emotionally spent to capitalize on playing a sub-.500 team. But only this moment was important, consequences be damned.

"I told him "I'm not worried about tomorrow; I'm worried about the right now.' So whatever they need for me to do I'm going out there and doing it," Butler said.

Rajon Rondo again played headliner early while Butler warmed himself into the game, scoring 25 with 11 rebounds on 11 of 18 shooting, with three 3-pointers and seven turnovers in 36 minutes.

The increased trust between the coaching staff and Butler to Rondo is evident, and Rondo has been driving this car as much as Butler through this recent stretch that has many encouraged about an actual playoff appearance.

Losing this game after beating Cleveland would mean nothing, and would symbolize yet another layer of inconsistency in a season full of it.

"We knew this was the biggest game of the season," Rondo said. "These guys have beaten us seven straight times, we wanted to take home court and give the fans something to cheer about."

But there was plenty of reason to believe the Hawks would repeat their performance against the Bulls from months ago, when they came back from a 10-point deficit in the last three minutes to send the Bulls into mini-turmoil.

The Hawks—specifically point guard Dennis Schroder—got into the lane at will, scoring 29 points with six assists and seven rebounds. Hardaway Jr. kept the Hawks in it with 20 points, including a stretch of nine straight in the third when the Bulls were threatening to pull away.

But the game went topsy-turvy on both ends, leading to a Bazemore foul on Butler when it looked like a terrible possession late would lead to yet another disappointing home loss.

Here's why the Bulls didn't take Michael Porter Jr. last night

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USA TODAY

Here's why the Bulls didn't take Michael Porter Jr. last night

There was angst and anger among the Bulls fan base following the team's selection of Wendell Carter in Thursday's NBA Draft. Though the team had been linked to Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr. - and he was far and away the biggest fan favorite - the Bulls passed on the former No. 1 prospect, opting to play it safe and find a complement to Lauri Markkanen on the frontline.

Porter fell farther than just past the Bulls at No. 7. Cleveland opted for Collin Sexton. The Knicks and Sixers went with wings similar to Porter in Kevin Knox and Mikal Bridges.

Porter didn't hear his name called until the very last selection of the Lottery, with the Nuggets grabbing the 6-foot-10 scorer. It's a dice roll for Denver, but one it can afford after it won 47 games and was Game No. 82 away from making the postseason. They're a team on the rise that doesn't need an immediate contribution from a rookie. And that's good, because Porter might not be contributing at all in his rookie season.

Gar Forman and John Paxson were asked about whether Porter was in consideration at No. 7, and if his medicals played any part in the decision to pass.

And while Forman wouldn't address medical situations, he did say the Bulls were in contact with Porter throughout the draft process.

"We spent time with Mike, he’s a great young man," Paxson said. "We’re not gonna talk about medical things. We go through a diligent process every single year.

"This year we probably had more debate and dialogue as a staff. Varying degrees of opinion were really strong. We wish him the best out in Denver."

Paxson didn't say that "debate and dialogue" necessarily included Porter, but multiple reports said the Bulls weren't interested in Porter when it came down to choosing at No. 7.

And it makes sense. The Bulls are in a position where they're beginning to move along in their rebuild. They needed a contributor, and someone who could play right away. Porter wasn't that player, and he wasn't going to be a great fit with Markkanen and Zach LaVIne anyway.

It'll always be fun to think about what could have been, but the injury risk was simply too high for the Bulls to consider using an important 7th pick on a guy who might not play for 16 months.

Boise State coach Leon Rice believes Chandler Hutchison, Bulls are a 'match made in heaven'

Boise State coach Leon Rice believes Chandler Hutchison, Bulls are a 'match made in heaven'

The Bulls ended long-standing speculation and drafted Boise State senior wing Chandler Hutchinson with the No. 22 overall pick in the first round of Thursday's 2018 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-7 Hutchison has been linked to Chicago since opting out of the 2018 NBA Draft Combine in May as he gives the Bulls a versatile and experienced wing on the perimeter.

A late-bloomer both during high school career in Mission Viejo, California and during his four years at Boise State, Hutchison has always been willing to put in the work to reach the next levels of basketball. Hutchison elevated from a mid-major recruit into a top-100 national prospect by the end of high school. And similar to his prep career, Hutchison blossomed into a first-round pick after a slow start to his career at Boise State.

Broncos head coach Leon Rice offered strong praise for his former star player, as Hutchinson became the go-to player for the Broncos during his junior and senior seasons. Because Hutchison can play multiple spots, rebound, defend and push off the break, he's an intriguing piece for the Bulls' future rotation. Hutchison should be able to play on the wing alongside other rebuilding pieces like Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.

"I think the Chicago Bulls got a steal," Rice said to NBC Sports Chicago. "You look at the last four years, he's gotten better every year."

"I think it's a great fit. You've got a terrific coach out there for Chandler and the style that he is. It's just the same way. I think it's a really good match."

It wasn't always easy for Hutchinson at Boise State. Rice and former Broncos assistant coach Jeff Linder were both convinced that Hutchison had the ability to develop into a star from the time they started recruiting him. But Hutchison needed time to develop his strength and skill level before he became a standout player.

"Our assistant coach Jeff Linder, who I really think is one of our best evaluators, he went and watched this kid. And he calls me, and it's five minutes into the game, and he's like, 'I've seen enough. He's what we need,'" Rice said. "He's got a feel for the game, he's long. I think people labeled him a little bit because he's from Orange County. In my estimation, he didn't fit that label. He just wasn't developed yet. He was young and he looked young. He just wasn't mature yet, that's the bottom line."

When he arrived on campus, Hutchinson was a touted top-100 prospect -- a rarity for the program and the Mountain West Conference. But the program already had talented and experienced players ahead of Hutchison in the rotation. Earning playing time, and a spot in the starting lineup, wasn't guaranteed to Hutchison.

Junior wing Anthony Drmic was one of the best, and most competitive, players in the league as Hutchison had to earn his stripes by battling a veteran in practice every day as an underclassman. Forward James Webb III was another all-conference piece that was already in place for Hutchison to learn from. 

"By the time he got to Boise, there were a lot of strong guys to compete with. I think that brought him something positive. Things that he didn't have," Rice said. "Anthony Drmic is one of the fiercest competitors I've ever coached. Chandler got to go against him day-in, day-out as a freshman. I don't know if across the country, who had a tougher practice. It shapes who he is today."

When Drmic and Webb departed Boise State, Hutchison was ready to step up into a consistent double-figure scorer and go-to player before his junior season. Already putting in the work to become a more well-rounded wing, Hutchison set out to improve an inconsistent three-pointer that was never above 28 percent during his first two seasons with the Broncos.

The arrival of assistant coach Phil Beckner to Boise State was another huge part of Hutchison's personal development. An experienced coach who spent time developing Damian Lillard as an assistant at Weber State, Beckner also had NBA G-League coaching experience and trained NBA players. Beckner's work with Hutchison took the junior's game, and his jumper, to a new level during his final two seasons in college.

"I think the last two years there was a great jump. He got to work with Phil Beckner, one of our assistants, who has worked with Dame Lillard and a number of players. I think he's one of the best at player development. It was a lot of hours and a lot of time doing it. A lot of dedication," Rice said.

Hutchison saw his three-point percentage jump to 37 percent as a junior as he put up 17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, helping lead the Broncos to an NIT appearance. Senior year was even stronger for Hutchison. Elevating to 20.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, Hutchison was named first-team all-conference while being named a top-10 national finalist for the Jerry West Award. 

"He led us in just about every category. And we had a good ballclub, too." Rice said. "He was a do-it-all player and he could do it at every position. He rebounded. He guarded big guys and small guys. Led the break. He's a great decision-maker with his feel."

Rice is also impressed that his star player was always coachable and easy to deal with away from the court. Hutchison earned his degree from Boise State, and even attended graduation in the midst of his pre-draft workouts in Chicago. Hutchison even flew straight back from his graduation and didn't miss his next pre-draft workout.

"He finishes. He got his degree and there's only two or three guys in the first round that got degrees and got it done. I mean, that's impressive," Rice said. "These guys that are elite-level players have so much demands on them with media and with the team and the workouts and all of these extra workouts. To get a degree while dealing with all of that is very impressive."

Hutchison has taken some time to find his footing in every level of basketball. Rice thinks playing around other talented, high-IQ players will help Hutchison's all-around game shine in the NBA. Rice in convinced that Hutchison's work ethic and versatility make him a great fit for the Bulls.

"That's what I love about him. I think he can fill a lot of different positions and a lot of different needs. Depending on what you need, night-in, night-out he can adjust his game and bring those things," Rice said.

"A great organization like the Bulls, he couldn't be more excited. It's a match made in heaven."