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.

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

USA Today

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

The Bulls waived Milton Doyle, Justin Simon and Simisola Shittu Saturday, which is minor news since they were mostly camp bodies competing for possibly a two-way contract.

The bigger development is that the Bulls’ roster is basically set, pending the signing of one player to the second two-way contract still available. No Iman Shumpert. No Alfonzo McKinnie. And that’s just naming two hometown products recently linked to the Bulls via the rumor mill.

The Bulls still want to see what they have in Chandler Hutchison, who did some individual shooting Saturday but missed all training camp with a hamstring injury. Denzel Valentine, currently out of the rotation, is staying ready.

And Shaq Harrison, who missed all five preseason games with his own hamstring injury but now is fully practicing, remains a Jim Boylen favorite.

And that’s what the roster staying set for now is about as much as anything. The buy-in Boylen has received from players dating to voluntary September workouts and bonds that have formed could be disrupted by the waiving of someone like Harrison, whose contract isn’t fully guaranteed but his commitment is.

While the Bulls recognize proven wing depth is a question mark, they value Harrison’s toughness and defensive ability. If Hutchison or Harrison or Valentine---if he gets an opportunity---don’t produce, perhaps a move could be made at a later date.

But expect only the signing of a second player to a two-way contract to join Adam Mokoka for now.

“We’ve been talking about that,” Boylen said. “We’re working on that. We’ve got our list and have reached out to some people. We’re actively in process.”

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Lauri Markkanen is focused on team, not individual, goals for Bulls

Lauri Markkanen is focused on team, not individual, goals for Bulls

You can’t put Lauri Markkanen in a box.

Just as you can’t pigeonhole one of the faces of the Bulls’ franchise offensively, you won’t get him to bite on any statistical goals for himself. As the outside world clamors for him and Zach LaVine to represent the Bulls at All-Star weekend in Chicago, Markkanen is focused on team goals.

“We haven’t made it to the playoffs and haven’t won many games since we’ve been here,” Markkanen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago following Saturday’s practice, alluding to himself, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. “That really bothers us. So we want to win first.”

In fact, as Markkanen fielded questions about a preseason that featured him playing more as a spot-up shooter than the dynamic, double-double machine that defined his February 2019, he shifted the focus to defense and rebounding.

Ho and hum, indeed.

“You’re trying to get me to say 22 (points) and 12 (rebounds) and 3 assists,” Markkanen said, smiling. “I don’t have those kinds of goals. I want to get our wins from 22 to whatever. And I want to get our home wins from nine to whatever. I’m not putting a number on those either. But I think guys are doing a good job of making unselfish plays and making the extra pass. We’re coming together as a team.”

In fact, Markkanen said, at least for now, his only individual goals are to “stay healthy and be consistent.” He reiterated his stance from media day that his goal is to play all 82 games after averaging 60 games his first two seasons.

“I wanted to focus on defense more this preseason and I was a little disappointed in myself in that regard early in preseason. But I watched a lot of film and I think I had my learning moments and I think I got better as preseason moved on,” Markkanen said. “I’ve talked to Coach. We both expect rebounding from me. I think we’re going to be really good offensively. It’s at a high level now, and we’re deeper. If we rebound and can limit their possessions, we have a chance to be really good.”

Don’t mistake Markkanen’s aversion to setting statistical goals for submissiveness. Early in the interview, he called his preseason “maybe not as great as I wanted to play” and acknowledged he needs to increase his free-throw attempts by getting to the rim more.

Of Markkanen’s 42 shots, 24 came from beyond the arc and he attempted just seven free throws in close to 91 preseason minutes. That average of 1.8 free-throw attempts in his four preseason games pales in comparison to the 3.8 he averaged last season.

“I haven’t got to the rim as much. I’m conscious of that. Those are easy points for us,” Markkanen said. “(Driving) is still available to me. But defenses are loading up on me more and trying not to let me get downhill. And we’re not in the post as much (offensively) as we used to be. We’re shooting a lot of 3s.”

Markkanen smiled again as he said this, so it’s clear he likes the Bulls’ approach. He also remains confident his varied offensive game will be on display at some point.

“I don’t always talk to him about his offense to be honest with you,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I talk to him about defending and rebounding and handling the ball. I’ve shown him some of his decisions in transition where he’s handled the ball.

“I want him to compete at the defensive end, rebound, handle the ball and everything else to me takes care of itself. I know he’s going to make shots. Historically, he’s been better when the lights come on.”

Those lights get flipped on for real Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C. You can’t put Markkanen in a box. But he can put pressure on himself to help the Bulls make the playoffs.

“I have really high expectations of myself,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going. I want to win."