Jimmy Butler hurdled over Dennis Schröder and carried the Bulls into a playoff spot

Jimmy Butler echoes Bulls fans’ thoughts on this year’s team. (AP)
Jimmy Butler echoes Bulls fans’ thoughts on this year’s team. (AP)

The rules that put 16 of the NBA’s 30 teams into the playoffs necessitate that a few of the participants are not going to be very good. That’s especially true in the East, which has been top-heavy for many seasons and regularly features a number of mediocre squads in the hunt for a low seed. Even both those standards, though, this season’s race for the conference’s final two playoff berths is a bit ugly. While the Miami Heat have turned around a rough start to the season with a truly impressive second-half run, the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers have battled several cases of internal dysfunction and disappointment throughout the campaign. At this point, many of their fans don’t even want to see them play a few extra games in mid-to-late April.

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On the other hand, the plus side of being a disappointment is that it usually only happens when a team has enough talent to build up hope in the first place. In Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, Bulls star Jimmy Butler reminded everyone that a big performance from a great player can compensate for plenty of problems.

Butler carried the Bulls in their 106-104 win at the United Center, putting up a game-high 33 points (11-of-20 FG, 10-of-10 FT) with eight assists and five rebounds. They weren’t cheap buckets, either — Butler scored the Bulls’ final nine points and helped erase a 100-91 Hawks lead with just inside of five minutes left on the clock.

If that’s not enough, he also hurdled over Hawks point guard Dennis Schröder to draw a blocking foul towards the end of the second quarter:

However, there’s no question that Butler’s biggest moments came in the final minutes. While rookie Denzel Valentine cut into that nine-point deficit with two three-pointers over roughly 100 seconds, it was Butler who finished the job. He made it a one-point game with a lay-up, answered a Schröder basket with a game-tying three, and then responded to another go-ahead shot from Schröder with a crafty lay-up to tie it again. Schröder committed a turnover to give the ball back to Chicago, which gave Butler a chance to win in regulation. He drew a foul from Kent Bazemore, hit both free throws, and then saw Tim Hardaway miss a desperation three at the buzzer to finish off the result.

The win was a meaningful one for Chicago, which moved up from No. 9 to No. 7 in the East standings thanks to some complicated tiebreaker math. All three of the Bulls, Heat, and Pacers now sit at 37-39 in a three-way tie for seventh, which of course means that one of the trio would not make the playoffs if these records hold though the 82nd game. The Bulls are only team that won four of seven in the combined season series (both the Heat and Pacers only won three times), so they currently hold the tiebreaker. For that matter, the Bulls have also already claimed a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Heat and would beat the Pacers via the divisional record tiebreaker. As hard as it is to believe, this unfortunate season could end with a not-embarrassing playoff seed.

Whether fans want that spot is another question entirely. The Bulls’ plan for this season did not work — Butler clashed with new additions Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, neither the defense nor offense ranks in the NBA’s top 10 by efficiency, and the team identity is essentially “good player bails everyone out.” A playoff berth won’t change the fact that Butler’s long-term future is in doubt and the front office doesn’t seem to be able to hold to a plan for more than five minutes. (On the other hand, it would be pretty hilarious if Rondo, who has been very good of late, helped them get there after a midseason benching.)

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Again, though, someone has to make it. The Bulls have won three in a row against the Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Atlanta Hawks — all teams that will or should end up in the postseason bracket. They also have the luxury of ending the season with six games against teams eliminated from the postseason or all but confirmed to join that group. In other words, it would be a fitting disappointment if the Bulls somehow managed to blow this opportunity.

It’s just a peculiarity of the system that plenty of fans would be happy with that outcome. But that’s the East, where at least one franchise will always be a victim of its own quasi-success.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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