Jimmy Butler has been Michael Jordanesque as of late, but tonight provided yet another example of why there is no Jordan equivalent.
The Chicago Bulls lost at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder by a final score of 109-94 Monday night, a loss that began to materialize as early as this morning when Butler awoke to flu-like symptoms. Long-time Bulls fans hoped to see a heroic performance from Butler in the wake of feeling ill given the precedent set by His Airness, but the flu ultimately forced one of Butler’s worst scoring performances of the season. Conversely, Russell Westbrook fell a rebound short of what would have been his eighteenth triple-double of the season with a line of 21/14/9.
Butler didn’t touch the ball until two and a half minutes into the quarter, as the Bulls relied on Dwyane Wade early on to get the offense going. Shockingly, neither Westbrook nor Butler managed to score any points through the first six minutes of the game. However, while Butler remained fairly uninvolved on the offensive end, Westbrook stayed busy by pulling down four rebounds and dishing out three assists in that same stretch.
With about four minutes left in the first quarter, Wade suffered an unusual injury. After Domantas Sabonis pushed Nikola Mirotic into Wade when trying to steal an entry pass, Wade’s head jammed into Mirotic’s shoulder. Although the replay appeared to show the contact was minimal, Wade remained rolled over on the floor for several minutes before being escorted back to the locker room.
Jimmy finally got on the board with a little over two minutes remaining in the period thanks to a lone freethrow make. Meanwhile, Westbrook finally got his own offense going and managed to put himself nearly halfway to a triple double with a line of 5/4/5 before being taken out in the final minutes. Elsewhere, the Bulls got abused in the paint by the Thunder—Steven Adams in particular—to the tune of an 18-6 scoring differential from down low. As a result, the Bulls ended the first down 26-20.
Thankfully, Wade re-entered the game to begin the second quarter, but the Bulls’ bench burned themselves badly in the opening minutes. Mirotic had an especially grotesque sequence that saw him bring his foul total up to three in the span of about fifteen seconds thanks to bone-headed plays on both offense and defense. The poor play of the Bulls’ bench players allowed a Westbrook-less OKC lineup led by Enes Kanter to go on an 13-2 run in the initial three minutes of the period.
Wade helped get the team back on track by scoring nine straight points for the Bulls thanks to a some trips to the freethrow line and a nice in-rhythm three. Shortly after, Cristiano Felicio had one of the more impressive tip-ins you’ll ever see in a basketball game that resulted in an And-1:
Unfortunately, the Bulls just couldn’t quite consistently stop the Thunder from scoring, as the latter continued to dominate in the paint while Westbrook himself managed to add eight points and another two assists to his totals. The Thunder concluded the half with 34 total points in the paint, most of which resulted from Kanter and Adams combining to shoot 12-15 from the field. Though Wade and Michael Carter-Williams played brilliant offensively in the first half, the rest of the Bulls were simply not up to par, and thus Chicago went into the locker room down 61-46 at the break. Jimmy Butler did not register a single make from the field, missing all four of his shot attempts, but did manage to dish out four assists.
Wade continued to shoulder most of the load for the Bulls to open the second half, as he scored or assisted on nine of the Bulls’ thirteen points through the first six minutes. However, Westbrook continued to pick apart the Bulls’ defense with spectacular passing, pushing his assist total to twelve with three minutes remaining in the third. Even with Westbrook on the bench for most of the remainder of the quarter, the Thunder still managed to rip off an 11-3 run to close out the period with an 89-67 lead. At this point, in addition to their massive advantage with respect to points in the paint, the Thunder had a 21-4 edge on fastbreak points.
The final quarter began with news that Jimmy Butler had retreated to the locker room and would not return due to the illness he had battled since the beginning of the day. Butler concluded his evening with only one point and missed all six of his shots, but did manage to hand out seven assists in 29 minutes. Battling the flu on top of having to face defensive-stalwart Andre Roberson definitely explains why Butler had such an atypical performance.
Fred Hoiberg called off the dogs shortly after as fans saw Bobby Portis, Isaiah Canaan, and Paul Zipser make appearances for the first time in several games. Not many more noteworthy things happened from there on other than Portis going black hole-mode on offense, some nice hustle plays from Felicio, and Westbrook desperately trying to complete his triple-double but falling a rebound short. There was also a funny sequence where Jerami Grant got switched onto his big brother Jerian, and the older Grant subsequently drove the ball right around him for an easy uncontested dunk. The final score ended 109-94 in favor of OKC.
Westbrook’s individual scoring output fell well short of what he’s been accustomed to this season (21 points on 50% shooting), but he made a plethora of beautiful passes to both the perimeter and interior that set teammates up for easy baskets all night long. His fourteen total assists were a big part of what allowed Steven Adams and Enes Kanter to shoot a combined 20-25 from the floor, but the Thunder in general were hot tonight as the team shot a scalding 56.6% from the floor despite shooting under 30% on 24 attempts from beyond the arc. Kanter in particular was lethal off the bench, grabbing eleven rebounds to go along with his own 20 points and posting a team high +/- rating of +27.
Conversely, the Bulls got outplayed in numerous critical facets of the game. They were out-assisted, out-rebounded, scored only four points in transition, and ended the game giving up a total of 60 points in the paint to the Thunder versus their own 36. Robin Lopez had arguably his worst game of the season, shooting 1-7 from the field and pulling down only four rebounds while getting absolutely abused by Adams and Kanter all night long. One has to wonder how much of a difference a healthy Jimmy Butler would have made in this game, but this game will nevertheless go down as yet another example of what happens when no one else off the bench can step up and make a difference for this Bulls team.
But cheer up Bulls fans, because tonight was Rajon Rondo bobblehead night! Do you know what that means? Now that the money spent on the promotion prior to the start of the season hasn’t completely gone to waste, we should see a bit more of an effort from the front office to shop Rondo prior to the trade deadline! If you attended tonight’s game and managed to snag one of these priceless items, I’m sure the BaB community would love to see pictures of you defacing Rondo’s bobblehead in the comments.
The Bulls will play the Wizards in Washington D.C. tomorrow night without Jimmy Butler or Dwyane Wade.