Jimmy Butler blocks Paul George on final play, Bulls hang on to beat Pacers

A couple of weeks back, Jimmy Butler called out his Chicago Bulls for allowing their defensive effort to slip well below the standard that has kept them among the stingiest squads in the league for the past half-decade. On Monday night, with a game against a division rival on the line, he took it upon himself to lead with his actions, too.

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With 5.1 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the Bulls clinging to a one-point lead over the Indiana Pacers, Butler once again found himself one-on-one with Paul George. The Pacers forward looks to have come all the way back from the devastating leg injury that cost him most of last season to regain his All-Star form; he came into Monday averaging 29.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game over the last six games, and had scored eight fourth-quarter points to get Indy within striking distance of climbing all the way out of a hole that was once 15 points deep.

Doing so would give the Pacers their seventh win in eight games after an 0-3 start to the season, and would represent something of a coup, as Indy entered United Center missing three rotation players — starting point guard George Hill, out with an upper respiratory infection; sixth man Rodney Stuckey, sidelined by a right ankle sprain; and rookie big man Myles Turner, who's expected to miss six weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a chip fracture in his left thumb.

As swingman C.J. Milers readied the inbounds pass, George curled around a pair of screens from big men Lavoy Allen and Ian Mahinmi toward the ball in the left corner. Butler navigated the traffic, staying on George's hip stride for stride as he drove to the middle of the floor and into the paint. George stopped and rose to fire — not one of the "I'm not a fan of analytics" long jumpers he feels a need to defend, just a nine-footer from straight away — and Butler was right there with both feet and his left hand. The All-Defensive Second Teamer out-leaped George to get on top of the ball, seeming to deflect it just enough to notch a game-saving block that cinched up a 96-95 Chicago win.

Given the closeness of the contest, some observers believed Butler might have fouled George on the attempt. Pacers head coach Frank Vogel was not one of them.

That play capped a game in which Butler also scored 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting to go with four assists, three rebounds and two steals in 36-plus minutes. It helped salvage a woeful fourth quarter — for Butler specifically (just 1-for-6 from the floor in the final frame) and for Chicago in general (only 17 points on 5-for-22 shooting) — that saw Bulls point guard Derrick Rose exit with just under six minutes remaining after rolling his left ankle on a baseline drive:

Rose was ruled out for the remainder of the game shortly thereafter, putting a cruel early end to a night on which he'd finally seemed to relocate his offensive game.

After admitting this weekend that he's still experiencing double vision after undergoing surgery to repair a broken orbital bone suffered in training cap — an injury that could help explain why the former Most Valuable Player entered Monday's action shooting 35.9 percent from the field and just 5.6 percent from 3-point range — Rose got off to a quick start against Indiana, taking advantage of the chance to match wits with Monta Ellis and scoring or assisting on the Bulls' first 10 points. After making only one of his first 18 3-point attempts through the first nine games, Rose calmly splashed through his first triple try early in the first quarter; he added another early in the fourth, marking his first multi-3 game since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which ended when some other guy drilled a pretty big 3.

Rose had 23 points on 9-for-18 shooting (2-for-2 from 3-point land) to go with six assists, two rebounds, two steals and zero turnovers in 33 minutes before exiting the game. A Bulls offense that had performed more effectively without Rose than with him through the first nine games of the season absolutely died down the stretch with him sidelined against Indy's opportunistic defense.

After the win, specifics on Rose's ankle were scarce, but the man himself apparently did not seem overly concerned:

While Rose and Butler accounted for most of Chicago's offense, the Bulls did get positive contributions from reserve bigs Taj Gibson (nine points, 11 rebounds, five assists, four blocks) and Joakim Noah (eight points, six rebounds, four assists and a steal), and even much-maligned Bulls stalwart Kirk Hinrich, who chipped in nine points on 2-for-6 shooting with two steals as the primary second-unit ballhandler as Aaron Brooks earned his first DNP-CD of the season.

With points coming at a premium, Butler's block — his second significant final-possession win-sealing defensive play of the season — was just what Chicago needed to improve to 7-3 on the season. Even better: the Bulls now sit fifth in points allowed per possession, suggesting they might once again be trending back toward the hard-nosed brand of Bulls that have proven to be such a tough out in recent years, led by their rising star shooting guard.

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"[George is] a hell of a player, a tough guard for anybody in the league," Butler said after the game, according to Jay Cohen of The Associated Press. "But he went right, pulled up and I was there to contest and got a piece of the ball."

George finished with a game-high 26 points on 9-for-20 shooting — his seventh straight game of at least 25 points — to go with seven rebounds, five assists and four turnovers in 38 1/2 minutes. Ellis added 20 points on 9-for-20 shooting with six assists and four rebounds, while Miles chipped in 19 points and went 5-for-8 from 3-point range. That wing trio's output wasn't enough to push the shorthanded Pacers past the finish line, though, and George rued coming up just a fingertip or two short after the game.

"It is my job to help lead this team to a win," he said, according to the AP. "I failed to do so tonight."

Don't beat yourself up too much, Paul. You had some help from the dude with the giant boombox fish tank.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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