Jimmy Butler willed the Bulls to victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Monday. Butler finished the game with 52 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block as the Bulls came back in the fourth quarter to win 118-111.
Butler was incredible all night, shooting 15/24 from the field and making 14/15 of his free throws. The Hornets boast the sixth best defense in the NBA, but had no answers for Butler on the wing. Nicolas Batum spent most of the night trying to slow down Butler, but was largely ineffective. Butler was just in a zone all night from mid-range, connecting on everything and using his intelligence to draw contact and force his way to the line. His and-1 from three point land in the fourth quarter felt like the turning point in the game.
The Bulls got almost nothing from the rest of the team. Nikola Mirotic was the second leading scorer on the team with 12 points on 4/10 shooting. The fact that the Bulls were able to beat this very good Hornets team is a testament to how incredible Jimmy Butler is. Butler, playing without Wade and Rondo, was able to take advantage of a little more space than he’s accustomed to and had the ball in his hand as much as he wanted.
The other big offensive contributor through the first two quarters was Denzel Valentine. With Rondo (hopefully) nailed to the bench for the foreseeable future, the rookie is finally being given the chance to showcase his strengths on offense. Valentine made three of four three pointers in the first half and was competent facilitating in the pick and roll. Valentine is never going to be able to get cleanly to the rim, but he has an arsenal of hesitation dribble moves that he uses to freeze the defense and find his teammates cutting around the court.
Valentine sadly sprained his ankle in the third quarter and did not return. Hopefully this will not linger and stunt whatever progress he showed Monday night.
The Bulls have threw out some interesting lineup combinations throughout this game. With Wade resting a balky knee and Rondo banished from the rotation, Fred Hoiberg has had to get creative with which five guys he throws out there. I’ve enjoyed the lineups with Butler, MCW and Valentine, a trio that give the Bulls great length on the perimeter.
I’ve also enjoyed the extended run Hoiberg has given Felicio the last few games. Felicio scored just four points in his 19 minutes, but he grabbed three offensive rebounds and made his presence felt on the defensive end. Felicio is the only Bull who is both “young and athletic.”
Nobody was able to slow down Kemba Walker. Walker scored 15 in the first half on 5/8 shooting, making all three of his triples, and finished the game with 34 points. Walker was able to motor past Robin Lopez and exposed the Bulls lackluster transition defense. Thankfully for the Bulls, as good was Walker was, Jimmy Butler was just better.
The key stretch of this game came in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter when Butler, who played 38 minutes, was able to rest up for the final stretch of the game. The Bulls were able to play the Hornets to a draw over those six minutes after being destroyed during Butler’s rest in the second quarter. Doug McDermott abused Jeremy Lamb on the block, scoring seven points in less than six minutes.
The Bulls were fortunate that the Hornets never tried trapping Butler on the perimeter. Hoiberg had MCW set screens for Butler, trying to force a switch onto the smaller Kemba Walker. I’m surprised the Hornets were not willing to let MCW roam free from so deep and force the ball out of Butler’s hands. The normally sharp Steve Clifford made a rare tactical error. I’m not complaining.