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Another Fourth Quarter Where Jimmy Takes over (and other Bulls/Cavaliers takeaways)

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Butler scuffled through three quarters before dominating the fourth in another Bulls win over LeBron

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls own LeBron James in the regular season, so I was expecting a victory once it was revealed that LeBron was playing and sidekicks Kyrie Irving (hamstring) and Kevin Love (bad sea bass) were out. The Bulls raced out to a 17-point third-quarter lead after starting the game horribly, but things looked dire as the Cavaliers cut that lead all the way down to one midway through the fourth quarter.

With Dwyane Wade struggling (and maybe hurting as well?), Fred Hoiberg went to a closing lineup featuring Jimmy Butler, Michael Carter-Williams, Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson. The Bulls promptly went on a 17-6 run to close the game and win 106-94, with Point Jimmy again running the show to close the game out after he kind of coasted through the first three quarters.

Butler scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, and 11 of those came during the Bulls’ closing run in the final six minutes. He did a little bit of everything, from knocking down jumpers to driving and finishing to getting to the line. He also made several key defensive plays, including taking a charge on a driving LeBron.

Fred Hoiberg again opted to run a heavy dose of 2/1 pick-and-rolls with Butler/Carter-Williams and then Mirotic and McDermott spacing the court, which opened up the middle of the floor nicely. As The Athletic’s Will Gottlieb pointed out, forcing MCW’s defender to actually defend instead of cheating off an off-ball MCW helps spacing.

The Cavaliers doubled Butler several times on these plays, and Carter-Williams did just enough as the roll man to be dangerous. He found Taj Gibson for several buckets out of this alignment, and while MCW’s flaws still cause problems (more on this in a bit), it was nice to see him taking advantage of the 4-on-3 a few times. One major problem with Rajon Rondo in the fourth quarter is a complete lack of aggressiveness, and MCW certainly doesn’t lack that, for better or worse.

I would like to see Mirotic and McDermott get a bit more involved in these sets rather than be used almost exclusively as floor spacers. Running Butler pick-and-pops with either could be dangerous, especially since both guys can put the ball on the floor a bit and score off the dribble. Butler and MCW could also stand to do a better job finding them spotting up out of the 2-1 pick-and-roll, but baby steps.

After another big fourth-quarter showing, Butler is now up to a much more respectable 43.2 percent from the field in the fourth quarter this season, and his 7.2 points per fourth is seventh in the league. He also finished with eight assists and six rebounds on this off night, which again shows what a special player he’s become.

It’ll also be interesting to see if Wade sitting down the stretch becomes a thing. He was coming off a knee injury and was hit in the face late, in addition to being awful outside of making three treys, so perhaps that combination led to a “benching.” But if Hoiberg simply sat Wade for poor play, I’ll give him some credit for doing it and will monitor if he’s willing to do it moving forward if Wade’s struggling.

The bench comes alive

While Butler, and the Bulls in general, got off to an awful start, Mirotic and McDermott helped turn things around. The Bulls’ bench duo combined to score 33 points on 12-of-21 shooting overall and 6-of-11 from three, and their presence immediately opened up the offense. Most of that production came in the first half, but it was invaluable as the Bulls got back in the game and ultimately took a lead into halftime.

Both players showed some versatility in their scoring as well. While the six threes were obviously huge (The Bulls made a season-high 13 treys on 30 attempts. Who knew that was important?), we also saw a nice McDermott baseline cut for a dunk and some Mirotic work in the post. It’s nice to get these guys involved in the offense, and the Bulls function much better when they’re contributing.

I still would like to see McDermott take more threes (four attempts in 32 minutes), but I was happy to see him fire away in the first half when he was hot. He had several quick-trigger threes that he may have not taken in recent games. This was also a neat play:

More of this please.

Taj Gibson kills LeBron’s team again

Finally, Taj Gibson did the darn thing again to LeBron’s team. He went 9-of-10 from the field to finish with 18 points and seven assists. In two games against the Cavaliers this season, he’s made 19 of his 23 shot attempts.

I was surprised to see after a quick skim of Gibson’s splits that his numbers aren’t really all that prolific against LeBron’s teams, but it sure does feel like he steps up to the occasion when he faces them.