The Bulls played a horrendous basketball game for three quarters against the Hawks on Thursday night at the United Center. Then Jimmy Butler happened in the fourth quarter, and the Bulls won 85-84 on a Butler three-pointer at the buzzer after Dennis Schroder had put the Hawks ahead by two just moments earlier:
The Bulls were dead in the water early in the fourth, falling behind by 21 points. Nikola Mirotic and Tony Snell began to make things interesting by combining to hit three three-pointers, and the Bulls were within 12 when Tom Thibodeau called upon Butler, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol to close the game.
Almost predictably, the Bulls made a huge push against a Hawks lineup that featured a Jarell Eddie, a Mike Muscala and other end-of-the-rotation types. Butler absolutely beasted on the low block against smaller defenders, and the Hawks bums had no answers for him. Butler basically did whatever he wanted on either end of the floor, and his game-winning three capped off a 20-point fourth-quarter effort that invoked the name of Michael Jordan from Stacey King because of course.
Butler finished with a game-high 29 points on 8-of-14 shooting. His game-winning three was the only three he made on the night, as he missed badly on his other three long-range attempts. He also got the benefit of many a whistle, getting to the line 16 times and making 12 of them. Three of those came after an idiotic foul by Eddie when the Hawks were up three late in the game.
The only other Bull to put up a notable stat line was Noah, who looked like his normal self for the first time all preseason. Noah finished with seven points, 13 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. It was also notable in itself that Noah was out there to finish the game. I'm not sure that was the greatest idea in the world, but Thibs gonna Thibs, I guess. For what it's worth, this is why Derrick Rose didn't play in the fourth:
Thibodeau says he didn't play Rose in 4th quarter because "he's still not comfortable yet" with that last stint/increased minutes— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) October 17, 2014
After two possessions to start the game, it looked like the Bulls were in for a superb offensive performance. Rose nailed a three to open the game, and that was followed up by a Gasol jumper to make it 5-0. But instead of being off to the races, the Bulls quickly ran into a speed bump. The first quarter brought plenty of bricks from both sides, and the Bulls found themselves down 20-15 after one frame. The best thing you could really say about the quarter was that Doug McDermott had six rebounds, although many of those were uncontested. McDermott, who started in place of the injured Mike Dunleavy, also missed two good looks from three.
Things didn't get any better with the reserves, something that has been a trend all preseason. The offense went into a deep slumber and the combination of Mirotic and Taj Gibson was a bit weak on the defensive glass. Mirotic was basically a non-factor in his first stint, and he drew the ire of Tom Thibodeau for pulling this stunt:
Yes, that was a between-the-legs pass on a fastbreak.
Snell showed a few nice flashes with drives to the hoop and was the only real source of offense for the second unit, but he also bricked a couple wide open threes and missed several later in the game as well. Meanwhile, Kyle Korver got hot from three and all of a sudden, the Bulls found themselves down by 17 points in the second quarter.
Thibs went back to the starters to close the half, and they trimmed the deficit to 10 by halftime against a group of Hawks reserves. Noah brought his energy up a level and displayed his slick passing (via @MSchwerha):
Rose followed up that and-1 with another impressive finish moments later, bullying Kent Bazemore and knocking down a floater after contact:
The Bulls couldn't keep the momentum going into the second half. The third quarter was nothing short of a trainwreck, as the Bulls lacked the ability to complete even the most basic of basketball plays. The offense was dreadful, with guys throwing the ball all over the court to the tune of eight turnovers. Butler made some things happen by driving to the basket and running into people, but he also bricked a few open threes. The defense was uncharacteristically poor as well in the third. While the Hawks didn't shoot a great percentage in the quarter, they got quite a few easy baskets thanks to spacing, ball movement and off-ball cutting.
Then came that crazy fourth quarter, which honestly just had me laughing. The UC crowd was going absolutely nuts for a preseason comeback against a bunch of bums, and Butler and his teammates clearly fed off it. I'm not sure how much we can glean from this, because the Bulls were really bad for most of the game and in addition to playing scrubs down the stretch, the Hawks were without Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague. But I really liked seeing Butler posting up and taking advantage of his strength, and if he can do that against more, ahem, real defenders, that'll be huge for the offense.
Oh, and me thinks Butler wants to get paid.