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.

Thad Young addresses media in wake of reports of being dissatisfied with role

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USA Today

Thad Young addresses media in wake of reports of being dissatisfied with role

Earlier this week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Thad Young is dissatisfied with his role with the Bulls. Young addressed the report and other questions regarding his role to assorted media after Friday morning shootaround.

Questions are paraphrased for length and clarity. Our Tony Gill also has the full video of Young's comments.

On Young's thoughts on the report:

I mean, you know, y'all see my quote in the same article, so, the quote was, 'I'm gonna go out there and play as hard as I can, when I can and do what I do to help the team win games. We're just coming off a really good win for us, we're looking forward to the next game and that's all it is. No matter if I'm playing 20 minutes or I'm playing 30 minutes. You guys have seen all year long I'm just gonna continue to go out there and play as hard as I can to help my teammates. And that's what it's all about, me going out there for my teammates and just staying calm, staying patient and waiting for my time.

On if he's frustrated with the amount of playing time he's receiving:

I mean, everybody wants to play 30-40 minutes a game. Everybody wants to play, especially when they feel they can help the team. But like I said, at the end of the day, whatever coach sees fit to do, I'm falling in line, I'm rolling with it. I've said that in all previous interviews, you can see that from all my quotes they've all been the same. Nothing has changed, and I played 30+ minutes last game, but if I come out and play 18-20 minutes this game, I'm still gonna go out there and play as hard as I can, no matter what. Like I said, it's about me always being there for my teammates and my teammates knowing I'm gonna be there for them regardless in any type of situation.

On if he's talked with Jim Boylen about his playing time:

I mean, we've talked. But at the end of the day, like I said, it's all about what coach wants to do and I have to fall in line with what our coaches are putting out, and believing in the game plan. I do believe in our gameplan, I believe we can win each and every game, you know, we've lost some very, very close ones. But I do feel like I can help the team a little bit more, but at the end of the day, like I said, it's all about me going out there with the time I do get and taking care of business. 

On how he feels he can help the team:

In ways, specifically, impactful times in the game, when teams are making runs or we need some type of defensive energy and some defensive spurts in end-of-game situations. But like I said, we're in a stage where we're trying to win games and we're trying to develop players and we're trying to make sure everybody's on one accord. And like I said, with the times that I do get, I go out there and try to be as productive as I can, the same as each and every guy on this team.

On if the conversations he had with Bulls in the offseason match up with the way things are now:

I mean, like I said, the conversations in the offseason were the conversations in the offseason. But going into the season things change and things come out a little differently. But, for me, like I said, it's not really about what was said in the offseason and all of that. It's about me going out there day-to-day, doing the work, and making sure that I go out there and help my team win games, so that's been my focus, that's my only focus and coming here, my only focus is to win basketball games and I want to do that at all costs.

On if the timing of these reports surfacing soon after playing his highest minutes total of the season (33 minutes against the Hawks on Wednesday):

Like I said, you've seen my quotes in the article. So, my quotes have always kinda been the same. Just to be ready at all costs, go out there and do my job when it's needed and go out there and whatever minutes I get, play as hard as I can in those minutes. So, I don't think about the timing or anything like that, I leave that timing thought process for y'all. But for me, like I said, it's all about coming to work and putting my hard-hat on each and every night.

On if he is disillusioned with the amount of playing time he's receiving:

Like I said, everybody wants to play more minutes. That's every guy on this team. Every guy wants to go out there and be able to play 30 minutes a night. It just so happens I came from a team — or my last seven, eight years — I've been playing 30 minutes a night and being very impactful within those 30 minutes. It's definitely a change, but like I said, whatever time that you do get, you go out there and you play as hard as you can, you continue to be professional, you continue to believe in what you're trying to build and you continue to believe in your teammates each and every night.

On if he should be rewarded for positive play with more playing time down the stretch of games:

I mean, yeah, I mean, it should be. But at the end of the day, like I said, we have different things that we're trying to do. Like I said, we're trying to develop guys and we're trying to win at the same time. But at the end of the day, the minutes. Yes, I would like to play more minutes, but if I'm playing 20 minutes a game, within those 20 minutes, I'm gonna try to give somebody hell during those 20 minutes. So, it is what it is.

On if he regrets joining the Bulls:

No, I mean, I love my teammates to death. Obviously the circumstances are not the best-case scenario. But at the end of the day, I love my teammates, I go to war with them each and every day, I love being able to help some of the guys get better. I love going out there and having fun with these guys, playing games. And I love getting into the film room with the coaching staff and going over different things that we can do better as a team. I just love everything about the game, I love everything that it brings, and like I said, the situation is not best case scenario, simply because I am only playing 20 minutes a game. But if coach sees fit to play me 20, sees fit to play me 25, sees fit to play me 30, I'm with whatever he decides. He's the man in charge, he's our chief, and we have to go out there and be able to follow behind our chief each and every night.

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Thad Young 'gets on' Wendell Carter Jr. for his struggles with foul trouble

Thad Young 'gets on' Wendell Carter Jr. for his struggles with foul trouble

In the midst of a season defined by slews of injuries and inconsistent play, Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford have been undeniable bright spots for the Bulls.

"Sh*t, they've been doing great!" Thad Young said after Friday morning shootaround, on their progression. "Wendell has been amazing all season long, you know, he's a capable double-double guy each and every night.

"Daniel. He's been huge for us with the time he does get. He comes out and brings a huge spurt of energy with blocking shots and rebounds. But also, on the offensive end, he's better than people think. You know, he can score the basketball around the basket, he has a great feel for the game, he has great touch."

That's high praise coming from Young, one of the preeminent veteran locker room presences in the league. He did have one critique, though, specifically for Carter.

"The only thing we gotta work on is his f*cking hands," Young said, with a chuckle. "Fouling people. He's always fouling people, he's always, you know, I tell him all the time, keep your hands out of there. When guards see that, they want to attack your hands and get to the free throw line. So, if we can keep his hands away from guys and keep 'em going straight up and getting him to alter shots as opposed to just trying to block 'em all the time. And getting guys to maneuver around him, then it puts him in a better position for him to stay in games and help us win games."

Carter's struggles with foul trouble are well-documented. He currently leads the league in personal fouls with 106 (that's 4.1 per game, second only to Jaren Jackson Jr.) and has fouled out of five games already this season. Young isn't going to let him off the hook.

"Yes, all the time," Young said, when asked he if 'gets on' Carter when he starts racking up fouls. "I got on him [in the Raptors game] when he fouled out. I said, 'What I tell you about your hands, man?' I said soon as you stuck your hand in there, they was ready to call a foul."

Still, it's hard to be too critical of the Bulls' second-year big. Carter also has 13 double-doubles this season, is tied for third in the league in offensive rebounds per game and anchors a Bulls defense rated second in the NBA over the past two weeks and change. Young acknowledged that, as well.

"He's been great all season long. He's a physical force for us, one of our better defensive players," Young said. "He does a hell of a job going out there and executing each and every night."

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