Entering Sunday afternoon the Bulls found themselves the winners of four out of their last five. Maybe -- possibly? -- on the verge of something after picking up credible wins over the Thunder, Raptors and Pacers. And for most of Sunday's game, it looked like many of us were going to have to re-assess who these Bulls are, again. Things did not look good, and the Raptors played legitimately well.
Then, Jimmy Butler happened. Exploded, really. Butler scored 40 points in the second half -- playing literally every minute, and playing them like they were his last -- and delivered this dagger:
Jimmy finished with 42 points in total, but this was truly about his historic 40-point second half. He broke Michael Jordan's franchise record of points in a half (39). While watching, it felt like you were watching something special unfold, but little did any of us know we'd witness something as rare as a 40-point half.
And not for nothing, this is the second time in basically a week where the Bulls stole one from Toronto. Gotta feel for Toronto a little bit here. How is any team supposed to prepare for a really good player going nuclear? The man wouldn't -- couldn't -- miss. Jimmy's had some terrific individual moments throughout his career, to be sure. But I don't think anyone in their wildest dreams could've foreseen something like this coming.
Some mostly ordinary, not quite historic things happened in this game, too. We'll get back to Jimmy shortly.
The Bulls jumped out to a early lead, 17-10, after going on a 10-0 run. But that was short-lived as Toronto immediately proceeded to go on a 10-0 run of their own behind some sharp shooting (shout out Bret Hart) from DeMar DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll. But at the end of the frenetically paced quarter, the teams were locked at 26.
Toronto commanded most of the second quarter, building a lead as big as 14 points. Jimmy Butler started bleeding a whole bunch after being on the receiving end of an inadvertent elbow from Carroll, but he did end up returning at the end of a quarter from what was called a lip laceration. The bleeding, however, could conveniently serve as a metaphor for the Bulls' defense in the quarter as they allowed Toronto to shoot 59 percent en route to a 60-point half.
The first half breezed by as the Bulls went the first 22 minutes without a free throw prior to Nikola Mirotic's trip with 1:31 left in the second quarter. Mirotic and Pau Gasol finished the half tied for a team-high with 12 points apiece. DeRozan paced the Raptors with 17, giving more juice to his growing All-Star game campaign.
The second half started with the Raptors picking right back up where they left off. While a healthy portion of their offense came as a result of crisp ball movement or simply exploiting Mirotic -- it's time to once again reconsider his future as a wing player -- as he was no match for Carroll, and the Raps did what good teams do: make open shots. The Raptors made the Bulls work throughout multiple phases of their offense.
About the only positive -- albeit, a seriously major positive -- of the third quarter was Butler playing like a man who did not appreciate getting a stern elbow to the face. Almost single-handily, Butler brought Chicago to within four points of Toronto's lead. Going for 21 points on just nine shots and 7-7 from the stripe, Jimmy was visibly assertive and forceful, but in a mostly controlled fashion. Also, he extended his steal streak to 40 games. Basically: Real Leader, Jimmy Butler was on full display.
So, at this point, it was like 'oh wow, Jimmy's really playing well, this is impressive' and he then went full Hulk mode. Carroll and DeRozan are two very respectable defenders, and it's like they weren't even bothering Butler's air space. Jimmy bulldozed his way through Toronto's defense. It's hard to put into words, but Jimmy was just on a whole different level today.
Scoring 40 points in a half has only happened five times since 1997, as ESPN's stat guru Tom Haberstroh points out:
Jimmy Butler just scored 40 points after halftime (no overtime!). The list since 1997: pic.twitter.com/xHlC2nDjjd— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) January 3, 2016
For all the jokes I'd like to make about leadership and being coached harder, I can do nothing but respect what Jimmy Butler did today. Hey, who knows? Maybe he is as good as he thinks he is? All I know is that's a pretty scary thought for the rest of the league to ponder.