The Chicago Bulls entered last week on the heels of a dismal December, staring down a trio of games that could have easily been three straight losses to start the 2017 calendar year. The week started with a match-up with the Charlotte Hornets last Monday night.
The Hornets led the Bulls most of they way on Monday night, and even held a 100-97 lead with six minutes to play in the fourth quarter. To that point Jimmy Butler led the Bulls in scoring, with 36 points, a scoring output becoming increasingly pedestrian for Butler. It was at that point that Butler flipped the switch from leading scorer, to the only scorer.
We’ve seen Butler do it before, absolutely blow up without a moments notice, and throw the team on his back to lead them to victory. On Monday Butler scored 16 of the Bulls final 20 points, to ensure a Bulls come-from-behind victory over the Hornets by a final total of 118-111. Butler finished the game with 52 points, with 17 of those 52 coming in the fourth quarter during crunch time and 32 in the second half. Butler also recorded 12 rebounds, six assists and three steals in the ballgame.
Late in the fourth quarter the United Center crowd began to serenade the 27-year-old with much deserved “MVP, MVP!” chants. Butler however appreciates the United Center love, but doesn’t necessarily agree with the chants saying this after the Bulls victory, “That’s a little bit over my head,” said Butler. “We have to win a lot of games for that.”
“I love this city, and I think this city loves me as well.” – Jimmy Butler
As far as the importance of his performance in Monday night’s victory, Butler had this to say, “Fifty-two points. Obviously, I’m just excited we won; big win at home. They’re in front of us in the race right now. We need to start stringing together some (wins).”
Butler’s 52-point performance was his second 50-point showing of his career, making him just the second player in franchise history with more that one 50-point game, second to only Michael Jordan who accomplished the feat a whopping 39 times.
On Wednesday night the Bulls hosted the Eastern Conference leading Cleveland Cavaliers, and while Butler didn’t have another scoring outburst versus the Cavaliers, he certainly owned the fourth quarter to once again ensure a Bulls victory over LeBron James and company on the road.
The Bulls led the Cavaliers by 17 at one point late in the game, fueled by a season best three point shooting performance, but after a LeBron James driving score with 6:48 left in the fourth quarter, the Bulls lead had shrunk to just one, leading the Cavs’ 89-88 at that point. Jimmy Butler, who had only scored six points in the first three-and-a-half quarters of basketball, again flipped his fourth quarter overdrive switch.
Butler scored 14 points in the final 6:48 to secure a Bulls victory over the Cavaliers, their second win over the Cavaliers this season. The Bulls were also out to a 2-0 start to a week that looked like it could have been “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for the Bulls. Dwyane Wade had nothing but praise for Butler after Wednesday night’s game in Cleveland.
“He’s taken that next step where not only is he scoring, he’s averaging 25 a game. Fourth quarter when you need a basket, when you need a guy you can go to we are putting the ball in his hand and he’s delivering. That’s a coach’s dream, but as teammates that’s comforting because you know the guy you are going to go to. He is going to make the right play and he can get fouled and he can make the bucket; he is gaining more confidence in himself and you can see it. It’s great to watch him grow. – Dwyane Wade on Jimmy Butler
Late in the fourth quarter of Saturday night’s match-up with another Eastern Conference power-house, the Toronto Raptors, the Bulls trailed in the game. By now you can probably guess what’s coming next. The Raptors led the Bulls 82-63 with 3:26 left in the third quarter, and even after the Bulls chipped away, still led 99-90 with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
Then it was on again, as it was on the previous two nights this week, it was Jimmy Butler time. Or as Bulls TV analyst Stacey King emphatically refers to Butler, it was Jimmy G. Buckets time, with the “G” of course, standing for “Gets”.
Butler scored nine straight points to pull the bulls into a 99-99 tie with the Raptors, who led by 19 late in the third, before he drove into a crowd of helpless Raptors’ and made an excellent pass to Dwayne Wade who threw down a dunk to cap an 11-0 run by the Bulls, giving them a 101-99 lead with 2:59 remaining in the game.
Toronto was not going to just roll over though, and would regain the lead with 59.4 seconds to play, at 105-104 after a pair of DeMar DeRozan free-throws. The Bulls and the Raptors would head into overtime eventually, and the Bulls would control much of the overtime period, en route to a 123-118 overtime victory. Jimmy did it again, helped the Bulls erase a 19-point deficit, on the strength of 42 points, his third game of 40 or more points in the Bulls last six games.
In this past week, Butler has averaged 38 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game, finishing the games as the teams main ball handler, and locking down a trio of easily lose-able games to pull the Bulls back above the .500 mark on the season, now sitting at 19-18.
“Obviously, you can put Jimmy up with the superstars in this league,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “There’s no doubt. We just put the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter and he made unbelievable plays, did everything for us. He was out there guarding DeRozan for really three quarters and then guarded Lowry, who is leading the NBA in points in the fourth quarter. A lot of guys are putting up huge numbers; they do it on one end and someone else guards the other team’s best player. Jimmy is doing both for us. I think (he’s an MVP candidate); just what he’s done for this team and this stretch he has going right now continues to add to his game.” – Bulls Head Coach Fred Hoiberg
The Bulls have yet another daunting opponent ahead of them on Monday night, as they will play host to Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder at the United Center. Butler will have to put on another one of his seemingly signature performances if the Bulls are to start the new year out with a fourth consecutive win. Can he do it again? I don’t think anyone can doubt that at this point. The only real concern is how long will he be able to put the team on his back and carry them to victory every night?
Butler has played in each of the Bulls 37 games to date in the 2016-2017 season, and is averaging a team-high 36.9 minutes. Only twice has Butler played less than 30 minutes in a game, while logging five 40-plus minute performances thus far. Butler leads the Bulls in scoring by a wide margin, now averaging 25.6 points per game, while logging 6.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, as a small forward.
While Butler doesn’t believe that he is an MVP candidate yet, he is certainly the most valuable player in Chicago. The funny thing about the Most Valuable Player Award in professional sports, is that people can never decide whether it is for the best player in the league statistically, or the player most valuable to their team’s success. Butler can certainly throw his hat into the ring on both of those angles at this point, but if you’re having a hard time putting Jimmy in your hypothetical top five candidates, just imagine where the Chicago Bulls would be without Butler.