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Bulls vs. Pacers Recap: Jimmy Butler Nails the Game Winner, Bulls Win 98-96

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Jimmy Butler played a modest game right up until the final seconds, when his go-ahead jumper gave the Bulls a crucial win over the Pacers.

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Okay, so the Bulls weren't mathematically eliminated from playoff contention yet prior to tonight, but you had to be pretty blissfully ignorant to believe that this team belonged anywhere near the NBA playoffs given their play of late. Put simply, too many unacceptable losses and not enough critical wins gave off the impression that this team didn't have it all together at the most important point of the season. A great deal of us began to wonder why we even care about watching this team to being with.

Well tonight, the Bulls gave us a little reminder of why we love to support this team. It was an exciting Bulls game from start to finish, with plenty of rising and falling drama in between. The important thing is that Jimmy Butler sent the Indianapolis populace home sad, as he added yet another game-winning shot to his collection off of... a Fred Hoiberg after-timeout play? You'd better believe it.

The first quarter opened with Derrick Rose wearing a sleeve, something worth noting because Stacey King would comment throughout the broadcast how it looked as if Rose was favoring his left elbow when running back on defense. We also saw the first of E'Twaun Moore in a few games, but he didn't start out doing much. Other than that, the opening quarter was competitive but pedestrian. Both teams spent the majority of first exchanging baskets and leads, but did so while most often settling for jumpers. Nevertheless, the Bulls went to the quarter break up 28-27.

The second quarter, however, was full of stuff to talk about. There was a pretty frantic sequence where Nikola Mirotic finished an And-1, followed by Doug McDermott fouling CJ Miles on a made jumper for another And-1, then McDermott came down and immediately converted his own And-1. By this point--barely three minutes into the second quarter--the Bulls' bench had 20 of their 39 points. They continued to give the second unit of the Pacers fits as they managed to put up 50 points with a little under five minutes remaining in the second period.

Mirotic spearheaded much of the offense as he dropped 20 points in the first half with fifteen of those coming in the second quarter alone. He also shot five for seven on threes, including a sequence where he knocked in three straight from the corners in the span of about two minutes. Unfortunately, the Bulls' inconsistency continued to plague them as they failed to register any points in the final two and a half minutes and allowed the Pacers to creep back towards the lead. This sequence included a beautiful ATO play that ended in Pau Gasol trying to go behind the back on a dribble, which Paul George keenly poked out and took to the other end for a layup. Despite Mirotic catching fire from beyond the arc, the Bulls only went into the locker room up 60-58.

The third quarter opened with news that Taj Gibson would be out for the rest of the game with a rib contusion, so Bobby Portis trotted out to open the second half instead. Gibson's absence was noticed almost immediately, as the Bulls' inability to close out on shots near the perimeter after rotating (or box out) forced them to cough up the lead off a put-back dunk with a little over seven minutes left in the third. Obviously it's flogging a dead horse at this point, but Pau Gasol's defense reached atmospherically bad levels this evening. Ian Mahinmi and Lavoy Allen had a combined 25 points halfway through the third quarter, scoring on a variety of open jumpers, put-backs, and baskets in the paint that Gasol and the rest of the Bulls just couldn't seem to appropriately contest. The quarter had an awkward ending as Cristiano Felico landed on Paul George's ankle that subsequently got twisted in an unsightly fashion, and George ended the quarter not being able to stand up under his own power. Mirotic corralled the resulting miss and took it coast-to-coast to tie the game at 84-84 going into the final quarter.

The fourth quarter opened up with a Brooks/Moore/McDermott/Portis/Felicio lineup, which should have gotten absolutely eviscerated were it not for the total incompetence of Indiana's bench. Instead, Mirotic's playmaking and continued hot shooting powered the Bulls to a 9-2 run to open the first three minutes that put the team ahead of the Pacers 93-86. Can you guess what happened next? The Pacers went on an 11-0 run to reclaim the lead with a little under five minutes to go. Mercifully, Mirotic managed to tie the score with his 7th three of the game during a roughly four minute stretch that Neil Funk so aptly described as "a festival of turnovers."

Gasol successfully defended a Myles Turner post-up out of a Pacers timeout to give the Bulls the ball back with about thirty-five seconds left. He proceeded to brick a jumper, but followed up his own miss prior to getting clotheslined with no foul call (the refs awarded the Bulls the ball, however). After a break, this meant that the game would come down to a Hoiberg after-timeout play. The world stood by with bated breath.

Pau got the ball from Rose off the inbounds and kicked it out to Butler... who dribbled and dribbled and dribbled around midcourt. It was shaping up for a healthy dose of hero ball when Mirotic suddenly flew in for a late screen and Butler drove past as the defense favored Mirotic and his hot shooting hand. Butler capitalized on this brief gap in the defense by pulling up and sinking an easy jumper with about three and a half seconds to go. For all the justified grief given to Hoiberg this season for his plays following timeouts, it's safe to say he came through with a pretty clutch call in this scenario. In Jimmy we trust.

After Butler unwillingly took a foul on the first Pacers inbounds attempt, CJ Miles chucked a Mirotic-contested long three that clanked off the rim as time expired, and the Bulls emerged victorious. With the win, the Bulls raised their odds of making the playoffs from 4% up to 10% according to FiveThirtyEight, and while there's still a lot of ground to make up, they are at least in a better position after tonight than they were yesterday.

Although none of the Bulls' starters managed to finish with positive +/- ratings other than Gibson (who did so despite posting a doughnut in the scoring column), Mirotic managed to put together a 28 point, 10 rebound performance off the bench in what was one of his best games of the season. Gasol finished with a line of 10/11/7 pts/rbs/asts and Butler had a nice 14 points on ten shots. Though Paul George and Ian Mahinmi scored a total of 38 points on only 28 shots combined, none of the other players on the Pacers managed to get into double figures. They also had a ghastly shooting night from beyond the arc, going only 3-19 (15.8%).

Overall, a very solid win for Chicago. The Bulls are obviously a long shot to make the playoffs, but a performance such as this one should at the very least make fans step back from the ledge if only for an evening. This season may not have given us many reasons to be happy, but a win like tonight's over a division rival should at the very least give Bulls fans something to smile about for a little bit.