Welcome to the NBA, Jimmy Butler.
The rookie from Marquette, who the Bulls drafted last summer with the final pick of the first round, saw the first major non-garbage time minutes of his NBA career in the Bulls' 105-102 win over the Knicks in Madison Square Garden Thursday night.
If you didn't watch the game and you are only looking at the box score, you are probably wondering what I have been smoking to start off my game recap talking about Butler. In a career-high 20:43, Jimmy scored seven points (2/5 FG, 3/4 FT) and had two steals, one rebound, one blocked shot, and one assist. Nothing special, right?
But the most important number was the zero- as in zero turnovers. He played all but nine seconds of the fourth quarter, and late in the game the Bulls' go-to play on offense was a Rose/Butler pick and roll. He never turned the ball over, he almost always made the right decision when he wound up with the ball, and he even hit a huge 13 foot jumper with 1:08 to play and the Bulls clinging to a three point lead.
But the reason he's getting all this praise is his defense. He was responsible for checking Carmelo Anthony for most of the fourth quarter, and 'Melo scored only four points on 1/6 shooting in that time. In fact, two of 'Melo's points came from the free throw line in the final seconds when Ronnie Brewer was on him.
Thibs went with Rose/CJ/Butler for almost the entire fourth quarter, and to be perfectly honest with Deng and Hamilton out, this is probably the Bulls' most balanced combination. Butler is an outstanding defender, and once he gets more comfortable he'll be a better offensive player than Brewer.
Of course, the Bulls don't win this game without the MVP- Derrick made some unbelievable circus shots throughout the night, and he might have had his best all-around game of the year. He finished the night with 32 points (12/26 FG, 2/5 FG, 6/9 FT) and 13 assists, only turning the ball over twice.
Every time the Knicks made a run in the fourth quarter, Rose had the answer- he scored 15 points (5/9 FG, 2/2 3's) with a pair of assists and zero turnovers while playing the entire 12:00. He did an outstanding job of handling the Knicks' half-court trap, and you never really had a feeling that the Knicks had a chance to win this game.
Rose didn't do it alone, however, on this night. Kyle Korver got off to a blazing start, knocking down a trio of 3's without a miss in a 3:00 span of the first quarter. He finished with a very efficient 16 points (4/7 FG, 3/5 3's, 5/5 FT), and he even had one outstanding defensive possession against 'Melo.
Boozer chipped in with 16 points (7/12 FG) and 9 rebounds, and he hit a few big jumpers when the Bulls needed them. Watson had another very nice night with 12 points and three steals in just over 19 minutes off the bench.
Noah had another solid game with 10 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots.
Amare Stoudemire was simply a beast, scoring 34 points (16/27 FG) and grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds. Anthony scored 26, but it took him 26 shots to get there. After a nice first quarter where he moved the ball and had two assists, the rest of the night he was his usual offense-stopping self, recording only one assist vs four turnovers over the final three quarters.
The Bulls now have a day off before playing at Milwaukee on Saturday (7:30 PM CT on WGN America, preceded by BullsEye at 7). They have made it through the hardest part of this nine game road trip going 2-2, now they play five games against teams who entered Thursday with a combined record of 36-75.
If the Bulls can win four of five to finish the trip 6-3, they will be in outstanding shape schedule-wise. They would be 23-7 with 23 of their final 36 games at home, and that would certainly make them the favorites to finish the season with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
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