Chicago Bulls wing Jimmy Butler has been at the center of controversy in the past couple weeks for statements regarding the methods of first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg and reports of discord with teammates. If the media seems particularly intent on paying attention to Butler, though, then it's largely because he has clearly emerged as the top player on the Bulls. Butler entered Wednesday's home game against the Indiana Pacers four points ahead of any other Bull in per-game scoring and looks like a shoo-in for his second-straight All-Star spot. If Chicago manages to emerge from the mass of teams bunched behind the East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers, it'll likely be because of their 26-year-old star's fine play.
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Butler showed his quality yet again vs. Indiana with 28 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field and an 11-of-13 mark from the line. But it was his performance in crunch time that proved the difference in the Bulls' 102-100 overtime win. After scoring seven points in the final 53 seconds of regulation to force the extra period, Butler tipped in this alley-oop pass from Pau Gasol to give Chicago the lead for good with 1.2 seconds on the clock:
That fine play came mere moments after Monta Ellis nailed his second attempt at a game-tying three-pointer to help salvage a 4-of-19 shooting night:
However, the Pacers did not get fortunate on the final possession of the game. Butler broke up an inbounds pass intended for Paul George, frustrating both the Pacers star and head coach Frank Vogel, who stormed off the court shortly after the final buzzer.
The Indiana duo may have been particularly frustrated because Butler won a game for the Bulls with another controversial defensive stop of George in mid-November.
Regardless, Butler came up big for the Bulls when they needed him most, making big plays and controlling the ball in key moments with Derrick Rose sidelined due to hamstring tendinitis. He and Gasol also deserve credit for their ingenuity in turning a broken play into the game-winning score. From Brian Sandalow for the Associated Press:
On the last play, Butler was supposed to take the final shot but was guarded off the inbound pass. Instead, the ball went to Pau Gasol. [...]
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg gave credit to both.
''That was just a heck of a pass and an unbelievable finish in there by two guys that know how to play,'' Hoiberg said.
Butler, for his part, expressed his happiness with how his relationship with Hoiberg has progressed in the wake of their recent controversy. From Nick Friedell for ESPN.com:
"I think we're both learning a lot about each other," Butler said. "He's probably learning how moody I am on a daily basis to tell you the truth. And it's hard, but I think he lets me be who I am. He handles everything that I do very well. I'm not a big communicator, I'm not great at it, but he's always talking to me. He's always asking, 'How are you doing? What can we do?' He's always asking my opinion on a lot of things. Yeah, it helped a lot."
The Bulls will hope that Butler and Hoiberg continue to grow their relationship. On the other hand, all this controversy hasn't exactly deterred Butler from becoming one of the East's best players.
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