Jimmy Butler's NBA-best 53 points lifts Bulls in OT thriller over Sixers


Jimmy Butler's NBA-best 53 points lifts Bulls in OT thriller over Sixers

PHILADELPHIA—Joakim Noah loudly protested to the officials, followed by Kirk Hinrich doing it in a more diplomatic manner, in a demonstrative display of emotion after inexplicably fouling Jahlil Okafor taking a desperation 3-pointer with the shot clock headed toward expiration.

It was a rare show of emotion early as the Bulls fell behind by as many as 24 points before Jimmy Butler authored a career performance, keeping the Bulls in the game as he waited for his teammates to show a pulse.

It took overtime, and it took all of his career-high and NBA-season best 53 points but the Bulls survived their own lethargy and lack of fight to come up with enough to beat the Philadelphia 76ers, 115-111, at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night.

The 50-plus point night added his name to Bulls lore, joining Chet Walker, Jamal Crawford and yes, Michael Jordan to the lot of Bulls with that achievement.

“Michael’s the best player to ever play this game. I’m just playing my role on this team. And I wear his shoes (Jordan Brand),” Butler said. “He’s got a couple notches up on me. A lot of them, actually.”

Fred Hoiberg was in amazement on the sidelines as Butler carried the Bulls to win.

“I think so. They had a good defender on Jimmy,” Hoiberg said. “We used him as a ball screener and as a handler. Again, play after play. It was an unbelievable performance.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

By the time he beat Robert Covington for a backdoor layup and foul, which fouled out the 76ers’ biggest offensive threat (25 points), it became clear it was his night.

“I was just shooting the ball. I just kept being aggressive,” said Butler, who added another explosion to his January file, which includes a 42-point performance against Toronto. “Took some bad ones, some terrible ones. But luckily we pulled out the win.”

Another three-point play later was countered by Ish Smith, then finally he had some help in the way of E’Twaun Moore hitting a triple with 1:17 left to give the Bulls a 104-101 lead.

Smith hit one of his own and to overtime we went, where Moore gave the Bulls more.

Seven straight points gave the Bulls a 111-108 lead before Butler chased down a rebound for a layup with 1:20 left to give the Bulls a five-point lead. And he defended Smith’s driving layup with 25 seconds left, providing just enough length for it to bounce off the rim, preventing the 76ers from tying it again.

“Just play basketball. Take the shots the defense gives you,” Butler said. “Everybody sees 53 but that’s not the reason we won. E’Twaun made some big plays down the stretch. He stepped in. That guy gets a lot of credit for tonight.”

It was a defensive stop added to his 10 rebounds and six assists in 49 grueling minutes, which was punctuated by going to the line a career high 25 times, where he made 21 free throws.

Amazingly before the game, no one could be sure how effective Butler would be considering he sprained his ankle late against the Milwaukee Bucks two nights ago and didn’t go through shootaround.

“It was one of those looks, ‘if you take me out I’ll quit’,” Hoiberg said.

But 10 points into the first quarter, it was clear he was mentally and physically into the game, even through his lapses and the mistakes of the rest of the team.

The lead climbed from 12 to 15 to 22 midway through the second quarter, at 50-28, and things looked quite helpless.

It was a comedy of errors, until it suddenly didn’t become so funny—or until it became “laugh instead of cry” funny for the Bulls.

“Turnovers. Hanging heads and no urgency at all on defense,” Hoiberg said. “It couldn’t have been a worse start for us. Everything affected us, the way we handled it. At halftime we cut it to 16, it was manageable. They backed it up.”

[MORE: Rose describes his 'process' after ruling self out vs. Sixers]

Hoiberg unleashed holy hell on his team at halftime, according to the players, as the mild-mannered coach got on his team.

“We don’t gotta continually say we know what we’re doing wrong,” Butler said. “Fred came in here and got on our asses, said “turn this s*** around”, he knew it, we knew it. And we coached the s**t out of us. Made sure we ran these plays. Made sure we executed.”

It wasn’t a stormy comeback for the Bulls, who should’ve never found themselves in this position—even without Rose and Gasol, because despite the 76ers being better since inserting Jerry Colangelo at the top of the leadership board, they’re still a team that has six wins to its name.

And all it would take would be a few minutes of continuity because the 76ers clearly ran out of gas midway through the third quarter as Smith and Covington made miraculous shot after shot to hold the Bulls off for as long as they could.

Moore scored 14 for the Bulls and Doug McDermott 17 in 33 minutes, including a thunderous dunk in the final minutes of regulation that stunned an already stunned crowd.

They were equal parts stunned about Butler’s performance as they were about their team taking a huge lead.

But by the end of it, Butler’s scoring and a few heady plays proved to be just enough on a night where “just enough” should’ve been more than enough to beat a toothless bunch.

NBC Sports Chicago launches new show Bulls Outsiders

NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago launches new show Bulls Outsiders

Chicago, IL (October 15, 2018) – NBC Sports Chicago – THE Home of the #AuthenticFan – has announced it will launch Bulls Outsiders, a brand new, live, multi-platform, fan-interactive Bulls program that will provide a fresh take on that evening’s game and much more from three non-conventional sports show hosts.  Bulls Outsiders will make its network debut after the Bulls 2018-19 road/season opener this Thursday, October 18 (approx. 10:00 PM CT) immediately following Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois on NBC Sports Chicago+, via live stream to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers at NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive, and -- on Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago). NOTE: Bulls Outsiders will also re-air on the main NBC Sports Chicago channel on this night at 11:00 PM; the majority of airings will also air live on the main channel location.

Hosted by three, die-hard Bulls enthusiasts – Matt Peck (@Bulls_Peck), David Watson (@bawlsports), and John Sabine (@jsabine214) – Bulls Outsiders will provide viewers with the hottest takes, insightful analysis, and spirited commentary from the fans' perspective. This new half-hour program will immediately follow the network’s dedicated, season-long presentation of Bulls Postgame Live for all 82 Bulls games this season.  

In addition to the lively post-game discussion with the show’s hosts, Bulls Outsiders will also emphasize heavy viewer interaction via fan engagement on a number of the network’s social media platforms including Twitter (@NBCSBulls; fans urged to utilize the Twitter hashtag #BullsOutsiders in their posts) and Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago), which will enable Bulls fans to directly interact with the show’s hosts via comments and questions pertaining to that particular evening’s game, the key topics presented to them that night, or anything else they want to discuss from a league-wide NBA perspective. 

“Our primary goal at NBC Sports Chicago is to super serve our fans and with the introduction of Bulls Outsiders to our multi-platform programming line-up, we are able to continue that mission with a fresh and fun new program that not only speaks to Bulls fans, but one that directly involves them in the dialogue,” said Kevin Cross, Vice President of Content for NBC Sports Chicago. 

In preparation for the hiring of the program’s three primary hosts, NBC Sports Chicago reached out to a number of notable local (and vocal) die-hard Bulls fans who stood out among the vast Bulls social media community. Candidates who responded back with interest were simply asked to shoot a one-minute video on their phone and offer up their take on Chicago native/Simeon Career Academy H.S. grad Jabari Parker joining the Bulls via free agency.  From there, the initial two dozen candidates were narrowed down to eight, who were then all brought in for in-studio auditions. Following the lengthy on-camera process, Cross, along with Bulls content producer Kevin Anderson, finalized their decision and welcomed Peck, Watson, and Sabine to the NBC Sports Chicago family.  

“It was an intricate process in choosing our hosts, but there’s no doubt Matt, David, and John have a great chemistry and solid individual strengths,” added Cross. “I’m also excited about how Bulls Outsiders will take fan interactivity to a brand new level and I couldn’t be more pleased that we will be able to deliver this show to the passionate and undeniably-dedicated Bulls fan base.”

Please note the following Bulls Outsiders host bios:

Matt Peck - Podcast host/writer for ‘Locked On Bulls’

Age: 31

Hometown: Glen Ellyn, IL

Favorite Bull of all time: “MJ, obviously…but Rodman is a very close second.” 

Favorite Current Bull: Lauri Markkanen 

Favorite Bulls moments: 

1st place – “1997 NBA Finals Game 1. MJ hits the game-winner at the buzzer after Karl Malone misses 2 FTs...Mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays."

2nd place – “2011 Eastern Conference Finals Game 1…Bulls blow out the ‘Heatles.’ Taj destroys Dwyane Wade's soul. And has a FILTHY put back dunk late with the route on. The Madhouse goes insane. We all leave that night thinking we were about to win the title.” 

David Watson - Bulls writer/podcast host for BawlSports.com

Age: 39

Hometown: Chicago, IL                            

Favorite Bulls player of all-time: Michael Jordan

Favorite current Bulls player: Lauri Markkanen

Favorite Bulls moment: “Jordan Flu Game in ‘97…Noah dunk on Paul Pierce in ’09 first round Game 6 Triple OT…oh, and that Pippen dunk on Ewing in the ’94 playoffs.”

John Sabine - Actor, copywriter, and improviser…he has performed with The Second City IO and The Improvised Shakespeare Company.

Age: 34

Hometown: Originally from Dallas, TX…has lived in Chicago for the last 11 years

Favorite Bulls player of all-time: “Pippen or Rodman, it's probably Rodman. Is it weird it's Rodman?”

Favorite current Bulls player: “Lauri Markkanen, but really Bobby Portis. I want to be friends with Bobby Portis.” 

Favorite Bulls moment: “Jordan's return from baseball. As a kid I couldn't understand, I said "wait ...he just decided to not play and now he decided to play, but like he has a new number and he's still awesome...what?!’ or…either 2013 Round 1 Game 4 against the Nets 3OT, Nate Robinson. It was a Marvel Movie.” 

REMINDER: NBC Sports Chicago will carry the 2018-19 Bulls HOME OPENER on Saturday, October 20 (Bulls Pregame Live presented by Coors Light at 6:00 PM; Bulls vs. Pistons tip-off at 7:00 PM; Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois at approx. 9:30 PM, which will immediately be followed by Bulls Outsiders at approx. 10:00 PM).


Re-focused Zach LaVine primed to bounce back: ‘I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for’

Re-focused Zach LaVine primed to bounce back: ‘I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for’

Healthy in October for the first time in three seasons, Zach LaVine entered training camp as the $78 million man looking to justify one of the summer’s largest deals that many criticized.

And just a few days into camp, the spotlight homed in on him further when the Bulls lost Lauri Markkanen to an elbow injury.

LaVine responded to both challenges, putting together a preseason performance that not even the most optimistic expectations could have included.

In just 22.3 minutes he averaged 17.8 points on 52 percent shooting, made 44 percent of his triples and got to the free throw line a team best 4.8 times per game. In short, he looked much more like the potential franchise-building piece the Bulls believed they were acquiring 19 months ago.

“I’m my hardest critic, so there’s nothing on the outside that I haven’t told myself of where I want to be at. You want to tell the doubters on the outside I told you so, but it’s mostly coming from a place where I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for.’’

The fifth-year shooting guard was fluid, attacked in a variety of ways and looked like part of the offense, something that at times was non-existent during last year’s injury-riddled comeback season. Taking shots in rhythm, attacking the rim instead of settling for contested jumpers, running the floor. LaVine looked a lot like the player who shot 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from deep before the ACL injury in 2017.

“I think I found a good rhythm and then just keep that going into the regular season. I think last year still, I was trying to catch my rhythm with the games I played,” LaVine said Monday at the Advocate Center. “I’d play two good games and two bad games. I felt like that up and down was a little bit with the consistency of not playing. Now that I’m back fully I think that’s where I should be.”

The offensive uptick is a sight for sore eyes, especially with Markkanen on the mend. But where LaVine can quiet his harshest critics – including himself – is on the defensive end.

It’s just a five-game sample size, but LaVine’s individual defensive rating of 97.3 was better than the team’s overall 100.2 rating. A year ago, LaVine’s defensive rating was 113.9, the worst on the team, and worse than the team’s overall 110.4 mark. They’re baby steps, but steps nonetheless for a player who knows what the book says about him on that end of the floor.

“I think I had a lot better focus on the defensive end,” he said. “I had some mistakes too, but I wanted to go out there and just really hone in on being more focused down there. I felt like I did OK with that. Still some areas I want to get better at, definitely off-the-ball I think I did a lot better than I had before.’’

The preseason is one hurdle cleared, but they get much taller and difficult to get over when Thursday and the Philadelphia 76ers come around. No matter who starts in the frontcourt – Fred Hoiberg isn’t ready to announce Bobby Portis and Wendell Carter Jr. yet – or if the Bulls get good Jabari Parker instead of preseason Jabari Parker, all eyes will be on LaVine.

It’s the contract. It’s being the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butle trade. It’s how well he played before the injury and how dominant he looked in the preseason. He’s off to a good start and knows now is this time to build on it.

“There are a lot of things you want to reach and get better at every year, and I put a lot of work into this offseason,” he said. “I have a lot of things to prove and want to get better at, and yeah, I feel like it’s just motivation for yourself when you want to accomplish things.’’