After missing clutch free throws in late-game situations against Dallas and Washington, both Bulls road losses, Jimmy Butler could have regressed, as those are emotional experiences for young players.
Instead, the second-year swingman fought through the disappointment and responded Thursday with 16-point, 10-rebound effort that included an acrobatic and clutch reverse layup late in the contest, as well as tough defense against the Brooklyn backcourt of former All-Stars Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, with Butler forcing a stop against the latter, regarded as one of the game’s elite point guards, in the contest’s waning moments.
“[Carlos Boozer] was telling me all game, ‘Be a basketball player. Just play. Don’t think about anything, don’t think about the score, don’t think about the time. Just make the right plays and you’ll be okay,’ so it’s great for me to have guys like that in my ear constantly. Whenever I’m worried about something, they’re always like, ‘You know what? Next play. On to the next one,’” he explained about he moved on from his recent disappointments, which led to him taking the blame for the aforementioned narrow defeats.
“My approach was next one. That’s in the past. You can’t change it. There’s nothing you can do about it, except to learn from it and we did learn from it. Us as a group, me as an individual. It was all about bouncing back and getting a win on the next night.”
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Thibodeau, who highlighted the subtleties of Butler’s game, added: “Jimmy, it was a great all-around game for him. It was his floor game that really stood out to me. His defense, his hustle, getting the ball to the hot hand, recognizing what was going on in the game. He got the ball in there, set some great screens also. Those are winning things and oftentimes, they don’t show up in the box score, but that’s how you win in this league.”
Robinson chimed in: “Jimmy played a hell of a game. He’s been stepping up all season, doing a hell of a job. He has a bright future. I just wish the best for him and hopes he continues to play like this throughout the rest of the season.”
As far as his two crucial plays at the end of the contest—the layup and defensive stop—Butler provided some insight into his thought process.
“Be like Derrick. That’s what Derrick does. He does incredible athletic plays like that. But it was just get the shot up, get the ball up on the rim and if I would have missed, I think that one of my teammates would have been there for the rebound,” he said of the layup, before explaining the defensive possession and having to guard Williams. “That’s always tough. It was just me guarding the ball, but if I was beat, I knew that Booz was going to be there, Lu was going to be there, so it wasn’t just me, it was everybody and then whenever the shot went up, everybody rebounded…he saw me, but he also saw four other defenders right behind me."
Mohammed’s adjustment crucial part of victory
In the opening period, it was déjà vu for Nazr Mohammed, who started for the Bulls the last time they were in Brooklyn—Boozer and Joakim Noah were out—before getting a quick hook and Gibson going the rest of the way at center in an eventual narrow defeat.
Lopez started off hot again Thursday and while the All-Star finished with 28 points on the evening, Mohammed made him work for it, things got a lot more difficult in the second half and in the game’s stretch run, the veteran came up with some big defensive plays.
“Brook got going early, but I know it’s a long game and he was making shots. You’ve got a talented guy like him making shots, all you can do is contest it,” Mohammed explained. “If he hits it, pat him on the back and wait for the next possession, try to contest the next one.”
Thibodeau said: “Lopez got going right away and I thought as it went on, Nazr made a good adjustment. He made his catches a little bit harder and we did a better job of swarming the ball to make him play in more of a crowd. But Lopez is a guy, if he gets his feet set, he’s in the paint, he’s tough to stop, if he has his feet set and he’s faced up and he has a good look at the basket, he’s got a soft touch.”