In need of a closer, the Bulls needed some luck, then some execution—and it all came in the form of the fingertips from one Jimmy Butler.
Pau Gasol’s pass to Butler on the broken play was right on time, as Butler elevated quick enough over Paul George to guide an alley-oop in with three fingertips with 1.2 seconds left in overtime, giving the Bulls a deciding 102-100 win at the United Center.
“That’s how I drew it up,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said sarcastically. “Jimmy slipped out of it and they made a great play. Jimmy made a great comeback.”
Butler was supposed to flash to the baseline to go one-on-one with George, but George jumped the route, leaving Gasol to flash to the top of the key, as he instructed Doug McDermott he would.
From there, it was a combination of skill, luck and chemistry as the duo who’ve completed many alley-oops this season combined to pull off their most unexpected connection ever.
“Pau put the ball on the money,” Butler said. “That’s on Pau. A smart player. A great player. He could’ve shot it but he made the pass. The basket should be given to him.”
Butler defended George on the ensuing inbounds pass, as the Pacers couldn’t convert an alley-oop of their own, as Pacers coach Frank Vogel was livid with the officials not calling a foul on Butler for contact made with George’s wrist after George caught it at the rim.
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“I knew he was gonna get the ball, I didn’t know where,” Butler said. “Taj (Gibson) called it out, I heard Taj yell 'lob.'”
It was another key defensive play made by Gibson in overtime, as he blocked a shot and had a steal in the extra five minutes, as he playfully taunted his friend George with a Dikembe Mutombo-like finger wag, as the Bulls escaped with a win.
It was Butler’s emergence in the final minute of regulation that opened the door to a miracle, as the Bulls were without Derrick Rose, who was a late scratch with right hamstring tendinitis.
“He had a little soreness in his hamstring,” Hoiberg said. “When he got to the arena, the plan was to loosen it up and see how he did with some treatment. We took a cautious approach.”
With Rose showing signs of star-like play, it looked like the Bulls were in desperate need of a hero late after squandering a 14-point lead, and Butler was battling through a 4-for-14 night as the Pacers began pulling away in the final minute.
George hit a leaning jumper off-glass with 59.9 seconds left, giving the Pacers a 89-84 lead and a measure of revenge against Butler, who blocked his shot at the buzzer to seal a Bulls’ win in their first meeting.
“He’s a hell of a player. He can really go. He does everything really well,” Butler said.
Then Butler got a little luck, as his wing triple caught the lip of the rim before bouncing in to tie the game with 34.9 seconds left, a fortuitous bounce to be sure.
From that point on, it was on. He finished with 28, hitting the last four shots from the field and getting to the line 13 times.
“My teammates said stay aggressive, ‘attack the rim, get fouled’,” Butler said. “That was on them. I won’t say I was down and out, but I wasn’t gonna keep shooting the ball either.”
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At that point, only Aaron Brooks seemed to have some offensive rhythm for the Bulls, as he came off the bench to score 29 in 40 minutes. Rookie Bobby Portis scored 16 with seven rebounds in 26 minutes, as his production was desperately needed with Nikola Mirotic going scoreless in 20 minutes and McDermott only scoring five in his return after missing Monday’s game against Toronto with right knee soreness.
“He’s a kid who’s not out there thinking,” Hoiberg said. “He reacts and plays and generally you re much better when you do that.”
But his magic appeared to run out to start the second half, as the Pacers started wearing down the Bulls in the second half, erasing a double-digit lead by going to the offensive glass relentlessly.
They grabbed seven offensive rebounds in the first six minutes of the third alone, and although the Bulls shut down that reservoir for most of the game thereafter, some final slippage allowed Monta Ellis to tie the game with a triple, as his heels were over the out-of-bounds line but his toes were still in play—literally tying the game by the skin of his chin.
George scored 19 but missed 13 of his 20 shots, and even Ellis, the chucker with very little conscience, missed 15 of his 19 attempts. But they stayed close by not turning the ball over and owning the offensive glass.
But with the Bulls in desperate need of a hero, the man who apparently started a crisis with his mouth ended the night and the 2015 calendar year with his play doing all the talking that was necessary.