All-Star guard Jimmy Butler has taken over as the Chicago Bulls' leading star early this NBA season. If there were any remaining doubt about his importance to the team, he erased it in Thursday's visit to the Philadelphia 76ers.
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Butler set a new career-high and matched Stephen Curry's NBA season-high scoring output of 53 points (15-of-30 FG, 21-of-25 FT) in Chicago's 115-111 overtime win. The Bulls trailed by as many as 24 points midway through the second quarter before taking back control against the team with the league's worst record. The Bulls also trailed by 10 early in the fourth before Butler and E'Twaun Moore (who scored seven of his 14 in overtime) took over to capture the win.
Butler's outburst ranks as just one of his notable scoring performances this season, including a franchise-record 40-point second half against the Toronto Raptors a few weeks ago. He already has seven 30-point games this season — as many as he had prior to 2014-15 — and set a career-high for the third time in less than 40 days on Thursday. His rise has been dramatic.
The bulk of Butler's scoring Thursday came via his willingness to attack the basket. He shot only four times from beyond the arc (making two) and set a new NBA season high for free throws attempts by someone other than DeAndre Jordan with 25. Additionally, his 21 makes are the most in the league since James Harden hit the same mark last March.
The overriding question for the Bulls is why they struggled so much against a bad opponent with Butler scoring so much. The rest of the team was not exactly poor offensively — only three others scored in double figures, but they shot 26-of-58 (44.8 percent) despite a 2-of-13 showing for Nikola Mirotic. Rather, Chicago's struggles came on defense, where they allowed the Sixers to go 45.2 percent from the field and 12-of-27 from deep. Both Robert Covington (25 points on 6-of-10 3FG) and Ish Smith (24 points and eight assists) posed problems for a squad that continues to lack the same defensive focus that it had during Tom Thibodeau's tenure with the club.
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