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Bulls Olympics Watch

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Winner of USA-Spain plays for gold medal

Basketball - Olympics: Day 14 Photo by Jim Young - Pool/Getty Images

There are two members of the Chicago Bulls remaining in the Olympics after Cristiano Felicio and Brazil failed to make the knockout stage. As expected, Jimmy Butler and Team USA are undefeated heading into the semifinals, although the Americans have faced a few stiff tests along the way.

A bit less expected is Nikola Mirotic and Spain waiting for them in the semis. Team USA and Spain faced each other for gold in the last two Olympics, but Spain’s two early losses in group play helped put them on the same side of the knockout bracket.

However, Spain’s early struggles appear to be well behind them. After losing the first two games by a combined three points and then nearly falling to Nigeria, Spain demolished Lithuania by 50, beat Argentina by 19 and then smoked France by 25 in the quarterfinals.

The 92-67 victory over France was especially exciting for Bulls fans given Mirotic’s superb performance. He was on fire, especially in the early going, and finished with a team-high 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting.

Niko was lethal in catch-and-shoot situations, and he knocked down five three-pointers in the game. The infamous pump-fake made several appearances, although he used one of those pump-fakes to give himself a better look at a three, which he drained.

In addition to his outside shooting prowess, Mirotic did some nice work down low by taking advantage of his size against smaller defenders. Niko scored several buckets against Nicolas Batum (who was a ghost all game), and he even hit a few baby hooks, something we rarely see out of him in a Bulls uniform.

It was great to see Mirotic show this complete game, and overall he’s had a really solid tournament. He’s 15th in scoring at 13.7 points per game, and he’s hitting 52.5 percent of his shots overall and 41.9 percent from three on good volume. He hasn’t really gotten to the line much, but I’m guessing (I haven’t seen all of Spain’s games) that’s largely a function of him not doing much ball handling/driving.

Mirotic is going to be an important part of the Bulls next season, and hopefully he can use this strong Olympic performance, as well as his second-half performance last year, as a springboard for 2016-17.

As for Butler, he’s naturally had a smaller role for Team USA (7.2 PPG), but he’s had his moments as an energy guy off the bench. After playing just 27 minutes total in the last three games of group play, which were all close, Coach K gave Butler 24 minutes in the 105-78 win over Argentina in the quarters.

Butler’s final line of seven points on 3-of-10 shooting doesn’t stand out, but he also had four assists and was a +18 on the game. After Team USA’s slow start, a unit featuring Butler, Paul George, Kyle Lowry, Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins turned the tide with some ferocious defense that’s been lacking throughout the tournament for the Americans:

Butler in particular had a nice steal plus and-1 finish during Team USA’s 27-2 surge in the first half.

The only real negative has been Butler’s jumper, which has looked broken for much of the Olympics and wasn’t all that great last year. He’s only 2-of-9 from the shorter international three-point line and has missed his share of mid-rangers as well. That’s obviously not comforting given the Bulls’ roster construction, and hopefully he turns things around on that front during the NBA season.

Team USA and Spain will tip off at 1:30 p.m. CT, and it’ll be televised on NBCSN. Niko fired the opening shot:

"Ey JIMMY... YES WE CAN "

A photo posted by Nikola Mirotic (@threekola) on

And Jimmy responded, both on Instagram as well as via USAToday’s Sam Amick:

The two had dinner planned for Thursday night, too, meaning this is only the beginning of the banter.

“He’s paying (for dinner), he’s got that international money. I don’t have that; I’ve only got American dollars.”

All in good fun for two guys who are all in on this game.

“Any matchup is fun, but definitely when you’re going against somebody who’s on your NBA team,” Butler said. “It’ll be a nice matchup…I hope I get switched out onto him (on defense), though. I’m gonna foul him.”

There’s a chance Pau Gasol doesn’t play due to a calf injury, but I have to imagine he’ll try to suit up. This should be a fun one.