Jimmy Butler refused to let the Bulls winning streak come to an end Sunday afternoon. After a quiet first half that Butler was forced to leave early after splitting his lip, Jimmy scratched and clawed his way to a big 115-113 win against Toronto.
Butler was just 1/4 from the field going into halftime, but finished the game with 42 points, shooting 15/23. Jimmy did most of his damage from all around the court, finishing off cuts and drives and knocking down shots from both sides of the floor. Butler did not shoot a three pointer until the fourth quarter, where he promptly knocked down two of his three attempts.
Butler’s hot shooting was great to see, but his aggression going to the hoop was what I enjoyed most about this performance. Butler shot a game high 11 free throws in this game, a clear indication of his willingness to challenge defenders in the paint. Butler has been very efficient from midrange this season, but it’s important to avoid falling in love with the shot. Games like today that feature double digit free throw attempts are very encouraging.
Before this recent run of great play, a lot was being made of Jimmy’s leadership skills and whether he was rubbing his teammates the wrong way. Butler has unquestionably changed the way he’s played on the court and his growing responsibility to carry the offense, along with his big contract, had reportedly altered his personality. But after watching their superstar carry the team to victory, the Bulls made it clear that all is well inside the locker room.
Butler didn’t win this game completely on his own. Pau Gasol’s 19 points, and six assists were instrumental in keeping the offense afloat in a game that was painfully short on bench contributions. His 13 rebounds and four blocked shots were crucial in slowing down one of the most aggressive offensive attacks in the league.
Nikola Mirotic chipped in 17 points of his own, knocking down 3/6 of his three point attempts. Toronto dared the struggling sophomore to shoot from deep, where he’s only connected on 34% of his shots. Hopefully solid performances like these will force defenses to respect him more from deep, opening up the floor for his teammates and giving his patented pump fake some much needed credibility.
Kyle Lowry’s 22 points and 10 assists look nice on a box score, but the former All-Star needed 22 field goal attempts to reach that point total. Lowry was hassled all game by Butler and E’Twaun Moore, who led the bench in plus/minus Sunday at +6.
The win against Toronto pulls the Bulls into sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference, and gives them a 2-0 lead in the season series against their conference foe.