Jimmy Butler saves the day as Bulls escape with OT win over Pacers


Jimmy Butler saves the day as Bulls escape with OT win over Pacers

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.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“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.”

[MORE BULLS: Taj Gibson pays no mind to trade rumors]

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.

Five observations from Bulls-Sixers: Well, at least the first quarter was good


Five observations from Bulls-Sixers: Well, at least the first quarter was good

Here are five observations from the Bulls' season-opener loss to the Sixers on Thursday night.

1. How about that first quarter?

In what could wind up being the most exciting quarter all year, the Bulls began the year with a 41-point explosion. The Bulls shot 63 percent in the quarter, at one point scoring on an absurd 11 consecutive possessions. Bobby Portis scored 13 points and hit all five shots, while Zach LaVine added 15 of his own. The ball was moving, they played quickly and caught Philadelphia out of position at times and took care of the ball. The fun times didn't last, but it wound up being the highest scoring first quarter in a Bulls season opener. It was fun. The other three quarters? Well, the first quarter was fun.

2. The defense is as bad as we thought it was

Granted, Kris Dunn is far and away the Bulls' best defender and was out while attending the birth of his baby boy. But this was still about as bad a defensive performance as the Bulls could have had, even against an offensive juggernaut like the Sixers. Communication was off almost from the start, and they always looked two steps behind. The Sixers got just about anything they wanted in transition, meaning it was a moot point that they struggled from beyond the arc. From Jabari Parker to Zach LaVine, it wasn't pretty. They're going to struggle all year long. Dunn isn't going to make enough of a difference. Shoutout to Wendell Carter's block on Ben Simmons, the lone defensive highlight of the night

3. Bobby Portis' bet is off to a good start

Portis was guilty of an ugly defensive performance, as Dario Saric posted a monster line by out-hustling his counterpart much of the night. But offensively Portis continues to shine after a great preseason. Portis, now officially in a contract year, went for 20 points and 10 rebounds and added a steal, a block and three 3-pointers in 29 minutes. Without Lauri Markkanen he's the Bulls' No. 2 scorer behind LaVine. We'll add her, too, that LaVine continued to look smooth on offense. He had 29 points on 19 shots and had seven of the Bulls' 12 free throw attempts.

4. The backup point guard job is up for grabs

Cam Payne's leash is incredibly long. He's the best option for now once Kris Dunn eventually returns, but it's probably time for Ryan Arcidiacono and Tyler Ulis to get a look. Payne finished 0-for-4 with five assists and a turnover in 22 minutes. No one was expecting Payne to match Ben Simmons stat for stat (Simmons went for his third career-triple double in four games against the Bulls). But the ball routinely stopped when it got into Payne's hands, and he didn't seem to know where to go once he pushed in transition. His speed is a positive, but once he gets to his spot he struggled to make the right play. And he's a clear negative defensively. Arcidiacono and Ulis aren't exactly Gary Payton, but they deserve looks at some point in the near future. Arcidiacono had 8 points, 4 rebounds and 8 assists in 28 minutes. That came against Philly's second unit, but he was decidely better.

5. Jabari Parker will want a do-over

Friday feels like forever ago. For all Portis did well to close the preseason, it was gone on Thursday. Parker's final line is a bit misleading because of the points he scored when the game was well out of reach. The truth was Parker's shot selection early was awful, and his defense was a real liability. It was the "cons" side of his scouting report played out on the court. There's still hope he can improve, of course, and Hoiberg will need to find the right combinations to make him successful. But we can probably rule out him at small forward if he's having trouble staying in front of power forwards.

Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers


Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers

PHILADELPHIA -- The Bulls’ starting point guard missing the team’s season opener is less than ideal, but that is the dilemma Fred Hoiberg and company are faced with.

Hoiberg made the announcement during shoot around that Kris Dunn would miss the first game of his third NBA season for personal reasons, but noted that his absence is “excused.”

The Bulls will turn to Cameron Payne as they get set to play the Sixers in Philadelphia Thursday night. The 24-year-old guard out of Murray State will be tasked with running the offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league.

Because of injuries and the numbers game at guard, Payne hasn’t had a chance to show Bulls fans much since he came over from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder.

“I feel like I can be way better,” Payne said when asked about the opportunity to show what he can do. “I know I didn’t make a lot of shots but it’s really not about that. It’s about getting my team involved and make sure everyone gets the ball in their spots to contribute.”

Payne showed flashes over the last 22 games of the 2017-18 season (14 starts), shooting 42 percent from three and averaging 4.6 assists per game in that stretch. The shooting stroke didn’t show up early in the preseason for Payne.

He was better in the team’s final exhibition against Denver and has shown enough to Hoiberg to earn the starting nod. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.

“Obviously we’ve been working on different coverages based on having a full roster, but things like this happen,” Hoiberg said when asked what this does to his game prep. “It’s going to be electric in here. They’re going to come out and play extremely hard and extremely physical. That’s who they are and we have to be ready for that. It’s a little bit of shock and awe with (the Sixers). You have to weather that first storm and hopefully give ourselves a chance with great effort.”

After Payne, the Bulls will have Ryan Arcidiacono as the first point guard off the bench. They’ll also have the services of newcomer Tyler Ulis, who will be in uniform tonight. Hoiberg mentioned that he feels comfortable with Zach Lavine bringing the ball up as well. He also mentioned that Jabari Parker will have his hands on the ball an awful lot with the team’s second unit.

The season hasn’t even started yet and the Bulls are already missing several key players. After an impressive rookie season, Lauri Markkanen will start the season on the shelf with a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Denzel Valentine will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. The team may have Cristiano Felicio, also dealing with an ankle injury, depending on his pregame workout goes.

“It’s not ideal but it is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “It happens at this level. You just have to go out and do the best job you can. It’s an opportunity for our guys to step up with two of our better players out of the lineup – really three with Denzel as a guy that can make plays in that second unit.”