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.
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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.