Jimmy Butler's 52 points prompts MVP chants in Bulls' comeback win over Hornets

Jimmy Butler's 52 points prompts MVP chants in Bulls' comeback win over Hornets

The embodiment of the Eastern Conference was on full display at the United Center, as the Bulls and Charlotte Hornets are a little closer to finding out who they are but the difference between good and mediocre is slim.

So slim Dwyane Wade’s absence didn’t tilt the pendulum even more to the Hornets’ direction as they came in with confidence from a win last week, but the tables were turned in a big way.

An unexpected energy boost helped them early and their remaining star closed the night as Jimmy Butler pulled off yet another miracle at the United Center, scoring 27 of his season-high 52 points in the second half to help the Bulls to a 118-111 win over the Hornets Monday night.

Jumper after jumper, most in the face of defensive stopper Nic Batum, Butler did virtually everything in the fourth—and even reached the 50-point plateau for the second time in his career thanks to Hornets coach Steve Clifford picking up a technical late with Butler hitting the free throw.

“I didn't even know how many points I had,” said Butler, in the understatement of the night. “Until the tech, Mike (Carter-Williams) was like, ‘yo, get 50’. I just stepped up and made the free throw. Other than that, I had a groove. Coach kept drawing up a great play. Same play. Mike set a great screen.”

Butler added 12 rebounds and six assists in 38 minutes, hitting 15 of his 24 shots from the field, making nine of 13 of his shots after the half.

“It’s an understatement to say he was phenomenal,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He did it any which way. He rebounded, got to the free throw line, I loved his aggressiveness. He didn’t force the issue at all.”

Before that, Butler was serenaded with music from the crowd that felt like the best country drawl he’s heard—“M-V-P!”—as the Bulls stayed close enough for Butler to take over in the fourth when it looked like their admirable effort would go unrewarded with a third straight loss.

Kemba Walker scored 27 points with 11 assists and four rebounds, as the Hornets moved the ball around and around and around until something in the Bulls defense broke down—until the Bulls figured them out enough to let their leader lead them to a win.

“We changed up our coverages a bit,” said Hoiberg, a statement that was echoed by Taj Gibson in the locker room as he gave his somewhat-embattled coach a life raft.

“It was a learning process for Fred, to change the coverage late and we followed the playcall and we did our job,” Gibson said. “At the end of the game, he switched the defense up and we were more aggressive. He told me to attack, get into the double teams and it worked in our favor.”

A hot start to the fourth for the Hornets meant the Bulls were playing from behind for the final 12, although they were stalking the Hornets for most of it. They rode Doug McDermott while Butler took an early rest and were down three midway through the period.

Butler’s 3-point play tied the game at 100 with four minutes remaining. And his putback put the Bulls up 103-102.

There’s a theme here as no other Bull scored more than 12 points, with Nikola Mirotic hitting that mark and McDermott scoring 11 as he started in Wade’s place.

“The same mindset I always have, do whatever it takes to try to help this team win or maybe be a little more aggressive,” Butler said. “And try to get other people shots, it makes my job easier.”

The Bulls couldn’t get away from the Hornets and vice-versa as the Bulls finally received tangible production from the bench, as Denzel Valentine and Jerian Grant took some advantages created by the absences of Wade and Rajon Rondo.

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Valentine turned his left ankle late in the third and didn’t return, but got the Bulls off to a good start in his unexpected minutes, hitting three triples—including two in a row late in the second quarter to give the Bulls a lead.

“I thought Denzel was great,” said Hoiberg as he added that Valentine’s ankle was tender after the game. “The first time he touched the ball says everything you need to know about the kid. He fired up the three, I love that about him. He’s not afraid of the moment.”

Grant also scored nine, as he and Michael Carter-Williams were tasked with trying to slow down the speedy and crafty Walker, who torched all comers for six triples and he hit 13 of 19 shots overall as the Hornets shot 49.4 percent to the Bulls 46.7.

The pace was quickened and even Butler got into it, making quicker decisions as opposed to holding it and it resulted in easier looks and him getting to the line 22 times.

“I think that was part of the plan, be aggressive, get to the rim, shoot your shot when you're open see if you got a rhythm going, if I didn't I was passing the ball,” Butler said. “Late I stopped passing the ball. That was the goal, be aggressive from start to finish.”

Like his game-winner against the Hornets last week, Butler seems to step up at his best when the Bulls need him the most—and shined brightest for perhaps his finest hour.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Discussing the NBA's reported restart plan


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Discussing the NBA's reported restart plan

Laurence Holmes, Anthony Herron and David Haugh join Kap on the panel.

0:00 - The guys discuss the state of our country and Vic Fangio’s apology after saying he did not see racism in the NFL. Also, they talk about Drew Brees’ criticisms of Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the anthem and how he will “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America.”

13:00- The NBA is coming back. The guys discuss the 22-team restart plan which ends the Bulls’ season.

19:00- The Bears continue OTAs via Zoom. What do we want to hear from Mitch and Nick on Thursday?

Listen here or below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast


Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

With Bulls out of NBA’s return plan, focus shifts to unprecedented offseason

With Bulls out of NBA’s return plan, focus shifts to unprecedented offseason

The Bulls began the 2019-20 season with such promise, even talking playoffs.

They will end it with such peculiarity, now talking pandemic.

Pending expected ownership approval in a Thursday morning Board of Governors call, NBA commissioner Adam Silver will announce a 22-team return-to-play format that doesn’t feature the Bulls, according to sources.

What a wild eight months it has been.

Back at last September’s media day, John Paxson, Gar Forman and Jim Boylen talked optimistically about making progress in Season 3 of the full rebuild undertaken when the Bulls traded Jimmy Butler in June 2017. Instead, an underwhelming campaign led Paxson to tell ownership last December that it needed to modernize the front office.

Now, Arturas Karnisovas has replaced Paxson, who remains a senior advisor, and Marc Eversley has replaced Forman, who was fired. And with the season expected to end officially on Thursday, Boylen’s future hangs in the balance. A source said there is no imminent announcement regarding Boylen’s status.

When Utah Jazz All-Star Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 on March 11 and Silver became the first major sports commissioner to push their league into an indefinite hiatus, the Bulls were riding a wave of optimism. Coby White had just started his first NBA game, scoring 20 points to continue his strong play in a home victory over the Cavaliers.

But that victory nudged the team to merely 22-43, one fewer game than the last time they played a shortened season thanks to a lockout in 2011-12. And that season, under Tom Thibodeau, they led the NBA with a 50-16 mark.

Though Boylen owns support from ownership and Paxson, his future will be Karnisovas’ call. The former Nuggets executive said he was hired to “affect change.” Eversley said the new regime’s mission is to make the Bulls a “player-first organization.”

Much of the player feedback the duo received about Boylen during the hiatus raises questions about his long-term fit. However, Karnisovas is known as a deliberate, thoughtful decision-maker who has worked to empower Boylen for now.

For instance, in a sign of Karnisovas’ leadership style, he has communicated to Boylen to focus strictly on coaching and working with his staff and players, sources said. Too often last season, Boylen got wrapped up in dealing with player agents or honoring commitments on the business operations side, which sidetracked his focus.

Karnisovas has communicated to the coaching staff that he and Eversley will put out the near-daily fires that typically arise over the course of a season. None of this, obvoiusly, precludes management from moving on from Boylen before the start of the 2020-21 season if it reaches that conclusion. But it gives a window into its operating procedure for now.

At his introductory news conference via conference call, Karnisovas set his goals clearly.

“A firm foundation is absolutely vital, I'll build that here in Chicago. No skipping steps. There is a systematic approach to success that will be the product of focus and intention, hard work and diligence. We will strive for constant improvement,” he said. “Chicago is a great sports town with a long, robust sports history. The city is made up of very passionate fans. Earning the enthusiasm and excitement back from the fans is both a challenge and something I very much look forward to. These fans deserve a team that they can be proud of, and my objective is to get us back to relevancy.”

Since being hired, Karnisovas and Eversley have held substantive conversations with players, evaluated all departments and begun the draft process. They added Pat Connelly as vice president of player personnel and J.J. Polk as assistant general manager.

However, Karnisovas has also utilized holdover front-office personnel like associate general manager Brian Hagen, assistant general manager Steve Weinman, director of pro personnel Jim Paxson and others, for now. Karnisovas has addressed situations he felt needed immediate change — the dismissal of Forman is an example — but is allowing the evaluation process to play out for other decisions.

With Otto Porter Jr. widely expected to exercise his $28.5 million player option and the pandemic likely impacting future salary caps, the new management regime may be initially limited to what they can do roster-wise. They face decisions on restricted free agents Kris Dunn and Denzel Valentine.

And they’ve expressed confidence in some of the core pieces like Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr., while vowing to explore the reasons behind Lauri Markkanen’s regression.

It won’t help the Bulls and their status as one of the league’s youngest teams to go over nine months between regular season games. Even with momentum for a voluntary September minicamp for the teams not still playing in Orlando, it’s an unprecedented situation and alters a typical evaluation period for Karnisovas and Eversley.

For what it’s worth, Zach LaVine led the 2019-20 Bulls in scoring at 25.5 points per game. Carter finished as the top rebounder, averaging 9.4 per game. And Tomas Satoransky’s 5.4 assists per game led that category.

But the only number that matters is 22 victories, a full eight fewer than the eighth-seeded Magic when the league shut down. That number left the Bulls on the outside looking in, with plenty of work to do for 2020-21.

RELATED: Explaining the NBA's return plan, which won't include Bulls

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