Bulls

Jimmy Butler takes over late to push Bulls to win over LeBron James, Cavs

Jimmy Butler takes over late to push Bulls to win over LeBron James, Cavs

In the midst of Jimmy Butler’s miserable night against the NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers, Dwyane Wade went from co-star to Bundini Brown as the Bulls’ once solid lead was slipping away.

Wade’s message: “Win the game.”

And boy, did that young man rumble afterwards, turning in a 14-point fourth quarter to finish off the Cavs as the Bulls pulled back to .500 with a 106-94 win at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland—their second straight win over the champs this season.

“A guy that wears number 3 (Wade) came to me and was like, win the game,” Butler said. “I guess a switch cut on and get a couple baskets and tried to get some stops on the defensive end. I guess I did alright today.”

Butler followed up his exhilarating 52-point performance against Charlotte with a more subtle box score line of 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists in 38 minutes, but his plays were loud—so loud they quieted the vociferous Cleveland crowd, or sent them wailing to themselves.

He took a squared-up charge on LeBron James when the Cavaliers cut the lead to one and James was charging downcourt on a one-man fast break. Butler guessed right on James’ move and took the physical contact, earning the call.

“He coming at you full speed, that’s the right play to make,” Butler said. “It can go either way. It went our way. We capitalized on it.”

Not having the best of nights, starting the fourth quarter two for 11, it didn’t seem likely Butler would put together another performance suitable for framing but perhaps he showed another step in his maturation in the last half of the fourth quarter.

Butler hit a triple on the ensuing possession, then hit a turnaround jumper over Richard Jefferson after grabbing a defensive rebound. All in all, he scored 10 straight for a reeling Bulls team and 12 of 14 as they put the shorthanded Cavaliers out of reach.

“The 4th quarter is always go time,” Butler said. “That’s when the biggest of the biggest players are supposed to show up. That’s when I showed I belong here.”

He made star plays.

Franchise Plays against the Franchise Player of today’s game.

“It’s my job to be aggressive. I know I was gonna have to do that in fourth anyways,” Butler said. “Him telling me that, you can’t let D-Wade down, he’s done it for years. I think it was my time to step up.”

Wade has been that guy before and played with the guy on the other end in James, so filling Butler’s head with confidence was the least he could do in the moment—particularly when Wade had great moments in the first matchup in early December.

“Last five minutes. That’s when you have to do it,” Wade said. “That’s’ when the greats separate themselves. LeBron is a different way, he’ll take over. He may get five assists. Jimmy’s is buckets (laughs). It’s getting them.”

To that point, James was getting the better of Butler and still finished with a line of 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 36 minutes, but without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers were shorthanded and the Bulls had to take advantage.

They responded with three of their best quarters of the season following a miserable first 12 minutes, finishing with 13 3-pointers and holding the Cavaliers to just four triples after the first quarter—doing most of the work without Butler.

“He was so positive in the huddles, continuing to talk about getting the bigs the ball,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, noting the contributions of Robin Lopez in the third as he had a couple buckets to stabilize things. “I thought the trust with our team was excellent, not just the defensive end but on offense.

The first quarter looked like a horror show, as the Cavaliers jumped to a 15-2 lead after a James triple midway through the period.

Some of the lesser-knowns took turns taking over, as Butler struggled with his shot and decided not to force the issue. Nikola Mirotic was in good mode, hitting two triples and showing a vast array of shots on his way to 16 points and four rebounds.

Doug McDermott hit his first five shots from the field in the first half, taking advantage of James’ ball watching to get free.

Michael Carter-Williams dunked over Jordan McRae and hit a couple jumpers in succession in the third to give the Bulls some breathing room.

[SHOP: Buy a Jimmy Butler jersey]

They led at the half and began pulling away, especially with Taj Gibson continuing his mastery over the Cavs, following up a 23-point, 11-rebound night with 18 points and seven boards, missing just one shot in 10 attempts.

“Doug was playing incredible, so was Niko,” Butler said. “If you’re open and it’s your shot, take it because that’s what the game is telling you what to do.”

But when the Cavaliers stormed back—on the backs of players like McRae (21 points) Channing Frye (15 points) and Kay Felder (nine), and James headed to the scorer’s table to a standing ovation from the crowd with nine minutes left, having took a tough tumble on his ankle earlier in the half, it was time for someone to take over the game.

“It don’t matter who’s on the floor, the ball’s coming to you,” Wade said. “And we want you to do you.”

And it was done by the burgeoning star, the young man who rumbled and rumbled against the biggest star of all.

Jabari Parker unafraid of history, expectations that come with Chicago's homegrown stars: 'There's no fear'

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AP

Jabari Parker unafraid of history, expectations that come with Chicago's homegrown stars: 'There's no fear'

The Chicago sunlight followed Jabari Parker as he walked through the East Atrium doors of the United Center, facing Michael Jordan’s statue before meeting with the media, introduced as a member of the Bulls for the first time.

For his sake, the brighter days are ahead instead of to his back as he’ll challenge the perception of being the hometown kid who can’t outrun his own shadow.

Parker re-enters Chicago as the No. 2 pick of the the 2014 draft the Milwaukee Bucks allowed to walk without compensation despite holding the cards through restricted free agency, damaged goods on the floor but not giving the Bulls a discount to don that white, red and black jersey he’s always dreamed of wearing.

“There were other teams but as soon as I heard Chicago, I just jumped on it,” Parker said.

It took a two-year, $40 million deal (2019-20 team option) to get Parker home, along with the selling point that he’ll start at small forward—a position that’s tough to envision him playing with on the defensive end considering three of the game’s top six scorers occupy that space.

It was a dream come true for his father, Sonny Parker, and high school coach, Simeon Academy’s Robert Smith, who both couldn’t hide their joy following the first question-and-answer session with the media.

“This is where he wanted to be,” Sonny Parker said. “His family’s happy, the support is there. All I know is the United Center will sell out every game. He can’t wait.

“Normally guys get drafted here. He signed to come here. He had a couple offers from other teams but he wanted to come here.”

The biggest examples of Chicagoans who arrived with outsized expectations for this franchise had varying results, but Derrick Rose and Eddy Curry both came away with scars of sorts that had many wondering why any hometown product would willingly choose to play for the Bulls.

The risk seems to far outweigh the reward; the emotional toll doesn’t seem worth the fare. And with the roster makeup not being ideal for Parker, no one could blame him for going to a better situation—or at least one more tailored to his skills rather than his heart.

“I think every situation is different. Derrick was excelling,” Bulls executive vice-president John Paxson said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “MVP of the league in his hometown before the injury. Eddy was just a young kid who didn’t have the savvy Derrick had. I think every situation is different. Jabari is such a grounded, solid person that he’s gonna be just fine.

“You don’t have to spend a whole lot of time with him to figure out he’s got it together. He knows who he is. Comfortable in his own skin. A quiet guy. Hopefully he’ll thrive here. The goal is it works great for him and works great for us.”

It seemed like he was bred to be a pro—and not just any pro, but the type Chicago demands of its own when a covenant to play 82 nights a year has been reached. If the constant prodding from his father didn’t break his façade, or older brother Darryl doing everything he could to coax emotion from the most gifted of the Parker clan couldn’t do it, two ACL surgeries on his left knee may pale in comparison.

The numbers from Parker’s recent stint with the Bucks don’t bear it out, but Smith sees a player who’s back on track to being what his talent has always dictated he should become.

“Even watching him work out lately, it’s like whoa,” Smith said. “But of course, everything with Chicago period you have to be cautious. With his family and the support system he has, this thing is about winning basketball games and giving back to the community.

“He’s had that (target) on his back since he stepped on the court at Simeon, coming behind Derrick and being one of the top five players as a freshman and No. 1 player as a junior. I don’t think it’s a huge problem, it can help him a little bit. If he has those moments if something doesn’t go right, he has someone to help him.”

Parker is more known for his restarts than his unique skill set in his young career, but even at 23 years old speaks with a sage of someone 20 years his senior, unwilling to tab this portion of his journey as a fresh start.

After all, it would be easy to envision his career beginning from the moment he left Simeon as a phenom followed by his one season at Duke—having two games where he totaled just 24 minutes with just two points to start the Bucks’ first-round series against the Boston Celtics isn’t typical of a star’s story if he sees himself that way.

“I don’t. I don’t want to forget all the hard work I had,” Parker said. “To forget I hurt myself and came back is to discredit my success. That in of itself is something outside the norm. I want to always remember the setbacks and failures I’ve had in my career so far. I want to use that as a sense of motivation.”

Bringing up his awkward pro beginnings in Milwaukee, where Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ascension to an unexpected strata mirrored thoughts he might’ve had of himself before his injuries, didn’t cause him to growl.

“I’ve never got jealous a day in my life. That’s why it wasn’t hard because I wasn’t jealous,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “My journey is my journey. I gotta be proud of that and be patient. I took that and I move forward.”

The mention of his defense didn’t make him defensive, either, as he definitively pointed out the truth as he saw it, that today’s game is far more offensive-minded than the bruise-fests of the previous decades. Telling by his words in subsequent interviews, the best defense is a great offense and when he’s right, there aren’t many who can get a bucket as easily and with as much diversity as himself.

The only time Parker broke serve was at the notion he’d be following in the footsteps of Rose’s perceived failures, the setbacks Rose suffered when his knees began to fail after reaching inspiring heights players like Parker wanted to emulate.

At the podium for all to see, he corrected a question formed around Rose’s “rise and fall”, a sound byte copied and pasted by a couple Chicago-bred NBA players on social media in support of Parker’s words and feelings.

“Derrick had no lows. He didn’t. He still maintained. Derrick’s a legend, no matter what…no rise and falls. Injuries are part of life. Derrick is one of the best icons in Chicago. He accomplished his duty already.”

And later, he wanted to set the record straight again, drawing a line from how the media has presented Rose compared to how the people of Chicago see him, and vice-versa.

“We didn’t turn on Derrick, the media (did),” Parker told NBCSportsChicago.com. “We’re hometown. I speak for everybody, we love our hometown.”

The love of Chicago meant more than the prospect of not being able to live up to a glorious prep past, even though he should be well aware wanderlust can turn to villainy in a heartbeat—or the wrong step.

“There’s no pressure for me,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “I’m just happy I get to play with some young guys, and I don’t harp on the negative. Anybody and everybody is gonna have an opinion. I value more my dreams than their opinions.”

And the dreamer steps forward, with a confident gait, eyes wide open and a city hoping it doesn’t repeat the same mistakes of its past.

“There’s no fear,” Parker said. “I haven’t faced any other pressure than bouncing back. I’m back on my feet and moving on.”

“When you struggle more, you succeed more.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: With Jabari Parker in the mix, are the Bulls playoff contenders?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: With Jabari Parker in the mix, are the Bulls playoff contenders?

David Haugh, Patrick Finley and KC Johnson join Kap on the panel. Jabari Parker is officially a Chicago Bull. So does that make the Bulls a playoff team? And who will play defense for Fred Hoiberg’s young team? Vincent Goodwill and Mark Schanowski drop by to discuss.

Plus with Manny Machado now a Dodger, are the Cubs no longer the best team in the NL?

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: