There was a funny moment midway through the fourth quarter of the Chicago Bulls’ Monday night meeting with the Charlotte Hornets. Bulls star Jimmy Butler, who had played 32 minutes through three quarters, came off the bench with just over six minutes left in the game and Chicago trailing by four. As he walked onto the court, though, he realized he hadn’t yet taken his shooting shirt off:
Butler laughed, tossed off the warm-up gear and checked into the game. It wasn’t quite as iconic as stepping into a phone booth and ripping off your suit, but the results were about the same.
Butler absolutely dominated the end of this game, outscoring the Hornets by himself 17-11 over the final 6:21, including a dagger jumper with 32 seconds left and some clutch free throws in the final half-minute to lead the Bulls to a 118-111 victory over the visiting Hornets. He finished with a season-high 52 points — just one point off his career high, set nearly one year ago — to go with 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block in 38 minutes of work. He completely carried a Bulls club playing without starting shooting guard Dwyane Wade, who was sidelined by swelling in his left knee, and point guard Rajon Rondo, who picked up another DNP-CD as head coach Fred Hoiberg continues to go with young point guards Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant over the veteran.
With the exception of a lone long ball on a four-point play to give Chicago a one-point lead midway through the third quarter, Butler did his damage the old-fashioned way, knocking down 15 of his 24 field-goal attempts — 7-for-9 at the rim, 6-for-8 from midrange — and going a remarkable 21-for-22 at the foul line on his way to the third half-a-hundred-hanging in less than a week, and the eighth of the 2016-17 NBA season.
That ties the all-time record for 50-point games in a single campaign … and we’re not even at the All-Star break:
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 3, 2017
Butler joins another pretty good shooting guard as the only players in franchise history to score 50 or more multiple times in a Bulls uniform:
Jimmy Buckets got Like Mike
— NBA TV (@NBATV) January 3, 2017
… but, y’know, he’s still got a ways to go to catch Mike:
Jimmy Butler now ranks second in Bulls franchise history with two 50-point games. Michael Jordan ranks first with 30.
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) January 3, 2017
… which is fine. Given how crucial Butler’s play has become for a Chicago team that has struggled mightily with inconsistency and offensive ineffectiveness since a hot start to the season, you’d imagine Bulls fans are totally OK with Jimmy not being M.J. so long as he continues to be what he’s become: the kind of player who can dominate a game and, on the right night, almost single-handedly tilt the outcome through shotmaking and sheer force of will:
This play-by-play snippet only hints at how much Jimmy Butler owned this game pic.twitter.com/QRD6tKYzhm
— J.A. Adande (@jadande) January 3, 2017
Jimmy Butler was a plus-15 while scoring his 52 points. In the 9:41 he sat, Charlotte outscored the Bulls by eight. (Hibbert: plus-8 in 22m)
— Steve Aschburner (@AschNBA) January 3, 2017
— Silvy (@WaddleandSilvy) January 3, 2017
The Hornets came into Monday ranked sixth in the NBA in points allowed per possession, and boasting a pair of quality perimeter defenders in ace stopper Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and versatile swingman Nicolas Batum. And yet, time and again, Butler made it look like he was competing against air, as a Charlotte defense that seemed content to try to stop him one-on-one rather than trapping him up top allowed Butler to get wherever he wanted to go on the floor, with disastrous results:
The @hornets allowed 1.296 points per possession tonight. That's ridiculously bad.
— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) January 3, 2017
… which left head coach Steve Clifford fuming over his club’s failings:
A peeved and brief Steve Clifford in post game.
— Steve Aschburner (@AschNBA) January 3, 2017
"Our defense is soft. They pick and choose when they want to play it." – Cliff ???????????? pic.twitter.com/kifjRGnJVE
— HornetsGIFs (@HornetsGIFs) January 3, 2017
The combination of Butler’s brilliance and Charlotte’s defensive stumbles meant the Hornets squandered another All-Star-caliber performance from point guard Kemba Walker, who punctured the Bulls’ D all night to the tune of 34 points (13-for-19 from the field, 6-for-8 from 3-point land) to go with 11 rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block in 38 minutes:
As good as Walker was on Monday, though, Butler was better. The Bulls needed absolutely everything Butler could offer, and the All-Star and Olympic gold medalist delivered, snapping a two-game skid and reminding everyone watching that, as long as Chicago has this particular “alpha,” they’ve got a fighting chance every night.
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