Despite loss, Butler impressive in first NBA start for injured Deng

Despite loss, Butler impressive in first NBA start for injured Deng
January 20, 2013, 6:19 am
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Luol Deng missed his first game of the regular season Saturday due to a strained right hamstring suffered in the third quarter of Fridays overtime win in Boston, leading to second-year swingman Jimmy Butler making his first NBA regular-season start Deng's status is day-to-day, according to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau in Saturdays 85-82 overtime loss to Memphis at the United Center.
Butler played a Deng-like 47 minutes, 43 seconds in the contest and scored a career-high 18 points, while making Grizzlies leading scorer Rudy Gay work extremely hard for his 16 points, which he got on 6-for-19 shooting on the evening.
More: Grizzlies halt Bulls' overtime streak
Thibodeau, obviously not in a good mood after the setback in his teams third overtime game in as many contests, was complimentary of Butlers performance.
I thought he started slowly and got going, the coach said. Overall, I thought he played very well.
While the team-focused Butler was disappointed in the defeat, he took some solace in knowing that he played in a fashion worthy of his mentor, a first-time NBA All-Star last season and the leagues reigning and current minutes-per-game leader.
Before the game, he was like, Go out there and play, dont worry about anything. This is Lu talking to me. He was just like, Play the game. Play hard. Do what youve been doing to get you to this point. He was just coaching me up and came in at halftime, told me what I can work on, what I can do better and what to keep doing, so its great to have guys like that in your corner, he said. Yeah, I am tired. But I feel like Id be more tired if we had won the game, because now I feel like everybody can do something to get better. Even when you win, you can do something to get better, but if you lose, it hurts that much more.
Teammate Joakim Noah is a big inspiration for me. I look over there, I see him clapping and cheering. He wants to win the game. He has the utmost confidence in me, so it definitely helps to have him over there.
Related: Don't blow Noah benching out of proportion
Regarding his defense on Gay, a talented offensive player with excellent athleticism and a size advantage on Butler, the Marquette product made a crucial adjustment after the Grizzlies small forward started to get it going in the second quarter.
Just play hard, try to contest everything. I feel like he started to whip my expletive at one point and just had to man up. We had to stop him. If we want a chance to win this game, weve got to get some stops. I said that to myself, Jo said that to me, Booz said that to me. It was a different matchup for me, Butler explained. Just tried to crowd him, more than what I was trying to crowd. Make everything difficult for him. Hes a great player. Really, really talented. Big-time players make big-time shots. Thats what he was out there doing.
After Deng exited Fridays contest, Butler stepped up in the games extra session and he did the same thing Saturday, deviating from his usual role as simply a defensive specialist and hustle guy, but sometimes reluctant offensive player. Instead, he continued to show a knack for offensive rebounding and displayed a new-found willingness to make plays.
I feel like thats what Lu does for this team, so when hes out, Ive got to try to fill his shoes. Really big shoes to fill, dont get me wrong. But all I can do is try the best that I can, he said. Just knowing when they turn their head, cut, get inside position, knowing when your teammates are going to shoot the ball. All of that factors into offensive rebounding, but I feel like a lot of its hustle.
I feel like thats my job, to hustle and play hard. Tired, fresh legs, Ill do whatever it takes to help this team win.
By sheer coincidence, Butlers family was in Chicago from Texas to see his first NBA start and saw that hes already well-received in the Windy City, as he got a nice ovation when introduced in the Bulls starting lineup.
It was great. It brought me back to my college days to tell you the truth. I love this city, he said. It was crazy because my family was here, so they got to witness it.
It was nerve-wracking at first. I got frustrated, I was rushing things, Butler continued. Everybody was just like, Calm down. Its like coming off the bench. Just play hard.
I feel good. I see how Lu feels, obviously.