Jimmy Butler's performance Tuesday night was his worst of the season, in what was the Bulls most crucial game to their playoff aspirations. Going 1-7 in his first 31 minutes of action, Butler finished 2-8 from the field in 35 minutes. For someone who has prided himself on being the voice, and leader of this team as the new face of the franchise, Butler put out one of the most uninspired, disengaged performances in recent memory.
The Bulls entered Tuesday night's game in Memphis two games back of the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers for the seventh and eighth seeds. With Detroit facing a hungry Miami Heat squad, and the Bulls going up against a horribly depleted Grizzlies team, it presented a tremendous opportunity for Chicago to gain ground on the playoff race. And after Sunday night's takeover in Milwaukee, it also presented Butler with yet another opportunity to take upon that leadership role and will this Bulls team one step closer to the postseason in what should have been a fairly obtainable victory.
But that didn't happen.
Fred Hoiberg and Butler continue to be adamant that everything is fine physically with Butler, but as has been pointed out several times by the numerous beat writers and fans alike, that doesn't seem to be the case. Since his return from injury, Butler's play has dropped dramatically from where it was prior. Though we've been able to see spurts of that explosiveness from Butler at various points since his return, including the past few games, Tuesday night we saw very little of it.
The most concerning aspect of Butler's performance, however, was how disengaged he was mentally throughout. This was the most critical game of the season up to this point, and there was nothing to show from Butler, no energy, sense of urgency nothing. I don't want to use the word "quit," because I don't believe that's what Jimmy's about, not at all, but he did appear to be checked-out mentally, perhaps emotionally drained. Which, seeing as he was the dude screaming "Get me the motherf****** ball" during the fourth quarter two days earlier, and saying this post-game after that win...
Butler: "I like all the weight on my shoulders. I love criticism because I like to silence my doubters. I love that (expletive.)"— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) April 4, 2016
it's odd to say the least.
After last night's game, when asked if it was the Grizzlies defense prowess Tony Allen who took him out of the game, Butler responded by saying:
"I don’t feel like I did my job on either side of the floor tonight," Butler conceded. "I didn’t make shots, I didn’t get other guys involved, I didn’t guard anybody. It’s easy to follow suit whenever I don’t do it. I took myself out of the game. I don’t know why. It’s disappointing; I’m disappointed in myself because I know that I’m too good a player for that.
"That’s my fault to this organization, to my teammates," said Butler. I’ve got to be better."
And he's right. At the point of the season where every second, every point counts, for your franchise player to not show up as Butler did, it's dispiriting. His relationship with Hoiberg has been discussion all season, and before the game Hoiberg spoke at length on it positively. Maybe some of it had to do with Derrick Rose returning and assuming the point guard role Jimmy craves, as the two have still not found much cohesion all season when sharing the court.
Even for what this team has unfolded to become, it's still perplexing in looking back at Butler's performance last night. But in the end, it was a perfect summation of this season.