The Chicago Bulls continued their push towards the postseason with a 117-110 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. It was a crucial day for Chicago considering the fact that the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, and Atlanta Hawks all lost today and gave Chicago some breathing room in the standings.
This game was Chicago’s 38th win of the season and once again the formula of success was clear: Give Jimmy Butler the ball and let him run the offense. It was another dominant game for Butler as he scored 39 points on 14 of 26 shooting from the field including 3 triples. He also added 6 rebounds and 5 assists to cap off another 30+ point performance.
With less than 30 seconds left in the game (4:32), Butler had the ball in his hands with a chance to ice the game for good. The Bulls were up 113-107 and with 12 seconds left on the shot clock when Butler crosses half court, you already know it’s an isolation play. This time Butler decides to go a little earlier than he has done in the past when it comes to late game isolation plays. Usually Butler decides to go with a few seconds left in the shot clock but this time he started to make his move with 10 seconds left.
Against a smaller defender in Jrue Holiday, Butler makes the wise decision of using his strength to get him to the spot that he wants. In this case, the spot is near the baseline. He barrels through Holiday to create some separation, but not much, and then rises up for a jumper that rattled into the rim and all but sealed the victory for Chicago. This was very good defense by Holiday and a very tough shot for Butler to make. But this season has been the year when Butler has been hitting these shots and showing why he is one of the top players in the league. Especially with his ability to hit shots in the clutch and tough ones at that. But Butler does a lot more than that, it’s by his shear threat to score that throws defenses off and opens up shots for his teammates.
(3:02) One thing that Butler has done exceptionally well is that his threat of driving to the basket has opened up looks for Chicago from three-point range. In this play, it’s a 2-4 pick and roll with him and Nikola Mirotic acting as the roll man. Initially it looks like Mirotic was setting the screen on Butler’s right but a quick move to the right caused Butler’s man Solomon Hill to react and match the move. That quick sequence allows Mirotic to then set a pick on Butler’s left hand side and catch Hill off-guard. Anthony Davis, who was guarding Mirotic on the play, was sitting behind Mirotic and was essentially waiting for Butler to drive right at him. He was a little more up near the three-point line than most bigs do against Butler. He can certainly get away with it considering his athleticism and ability to recover, which many times lead to his man getting blocked. But with Davis rightly focused on Butler, it allowed Mirotic to set the screen and then slip to the top of the three-point line. It was a simple pass for Butler to make towards Mirotic and with Davis late on switching back it was a simple and open shot for Niko, which he drained.
With Chicago looking more and more like they will make the playoffs it becomes even more clear that Butler will have to be at near perfect for the Bulls to do damage in the postseason. Chicago has been very poor with him off the court and no other player is able to create offense for himself and others on the team like Butler can. He will get his points (and a lot of them) but he can also open up shots for his teammates and is willing to find them. All hail Jimmy Butler.
Big game for Bobby Portis
It’s been a couple weeks since Bobby Portis played a great game, but he showed up Sunday. Portis put up a double double, scoring 21 points and 11 rebounds, and provided a spark off the bench that certainly wasn’t expected. He even showed his ability to spread the floor, hitting 3 of 5 from three, and that is something that he should keep trying to improve. Joffrey Lauvergne also dropped 15 to add to Chicago’s bench power. It was certainly surprising to see both Lauvergne and Portis come up with big games and in the rare case that happens again, Chicago will gladly take that.
Rajon Rondo is keeping this up
Seriously, who knows if Rondo can keep this type of play up heading into the postseason but as of right now this mini-spurt of good games by Rajon Rondo is a pleasant surprise. Especially given all of the drama that happened earlier in the year. He now has the starting role back and nearly recorded a triple double (10 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists).
Let’s see how far this goes. But while we are at this, enjoy this clip of Rondo flopping at a screen set by DeMarcus Cousins.