Jimmy freakin’ Butler, man. I’m out of superlatives to describe this guy. We’ve reached the point where we don’t hope for amazing things from him down the stretch, we expect it. It’s as sure a thing as the sky being blue and the Bears being bad. Despite scoring just 16 points, the Bulls’ superstar held true to form on Sunday night, knocking down two clutch jumpers and diving for an inbounds steal in the waning seconds of the team’s 108-104 win against the Grizzlies. It’s Jimmy’s world. We’re just living in it.
The road to this game’s thrilling conclusion was far from linear, and what turned out to be a fairly fun game started with one of the most dismal first quarters I can recall watching. The Bulls face-planted right out of the starting gate, making just 6-of-23 field goals and missing all 6 of their three point attempts as they scored a pathetic 14 points in the frame. Impressively, they shot even worse from the free throw line going just 2-of-9 (Butler contributing 3 of those misses himself). The Bulls were able to hold down the Grizzlies well enough and trailed by just 5, but it didn’t quite look like we were in store for a barn burner.
Luckily, the tides shifted, and that was mainly due to the performance of Doug McDermott. Despite his well documented recent struggles, Doug was absolutely ablaze in the 2nd quarter. Rajon Rondo continually searched him out in his new role as backup point guard and Doug rewarded him appropriately, knocking down 6-of-7 shots and 5-of-5 free throws en route to a 20 point quarter. McDermott had it all working in this game; he had a 4 point play, a nice face up and-1 jumper over Troy Daniels, and several nice cuts to the basket. Throw in a nasty chase down block by Robin Lopez and some solid interior play from Taj Gibson, and the Bulls were able to turn a 5 point hole into a 6 point lead by the half.
The 2nd half was really just some very fun back and forth basketball. Lopez took a Michael Carter-Williams pass off the face that landed in Taj Gibson’s lap for a dunk. Memphis got solid contributions off the bench in the form of a couple of threes from Vince Carter, and Zach Randolph repeatedly threw helpless Bulls players aside on his way to 16 rebounds (8 offensive). Fred Hoiberg brought Doug McDermott back into the game, but Tony Allen stuck to him like glue, and Doug was only able to add 9 second half points to his total after 22 in the first.
With a minute left on the clock, Jimmy raised up and fired a stepback 20-foot jumper in over Allen. Mike Conley–who was excellent all night (28 points, 8 assists), responded with a jumper in turn, but Jimmy came down and split a double team to hit another 15-foot shot. David Fizdale called a timeout to try and organize a play, but it ended with a wayward off the dribble 3 that was corralled by Doug McDermott with 6 seconds remaining. Doug hit the pair of free throws, and as Marc Gasol tried to get the ball in to Conley, Butler laid out half the width of the floor to pick off the bouncing pass and seal the game. Again, not a whole lot you can do there. If it’s crunch time, Jimmy will steal the ball, your significant other, and probably your heart and soul too. He’s done it time and time again this year, and he came through again when the Bulls needed him the most.
The Bulls will take on the Dallas Mavericks at home on Tuesday night, where they will have Dwyane Wade back while looking to carry on the good vibes from their first set of back-to-back wins this season. Go Bulls!