WASHINGTON—Jimmy Butler had to tell the truth.
After playing all 53 minutes of Game 2’s overtime loss to the Wizards back in Chicago, the Bulls swingman feels tired, a natural response.
“I do. I’m not going to lie about that,” Butler acknowledged after the Bulls’ morning shootaround Friday. “But that’s only a mental state. Once you hit a certain point, it’s just like you can’t get more tired than this.”
“I’m good. I got a lot of rest, a lot of ice. This, that, I’m ready to go,” he went on to say. “Nah, I don’t think I need breathers. I’ll be all right.
“I guess it’s what coach and my teammates need for me. I definitely have to be productive on both ends of the floor.”
Butler hasn’t made much of an impact for the Bulls on offense in their first-round series against Washington, which has a 2-0 advantage heading into Friday night’s Game 3 at the Verizon Center. He knows he’ll have to be in order for the Bulls to not get pushed to the brink of elimination.
“I’ve just got to take shots whenever I’m open and create for myself and continue to create for others,” he said. “I get so caught up with not trying to let my guy score that I forget to be an offensive player at times. Which can’t happen. But we’ve talked about it. So it won’t happen.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, perhaps because he knows how much of a workload he’s put on Butler’s shoulders, defended the third-year pro’s offensive performance.
“Well, I want him to make the right play, and the game tells him the right play to make. So if he’s open, shoot. If the second defender comes make the play. I think he’s made a lot of good plays. Now he hasn’t gotten an assist, okay, because we haven’t made shots, but I think he’s made the right play. That’s what I’m more concerned with. I think if he has scoring opportunities, he will score. Whatever the game tells you. He’s very good in transition, he’s very good moving without the ball, he’s a very good play-maker in pick-and-roll, but the game tells you what shots you’re going to take,” the coach said. He’s done a good job. He’s playing a lot of minutes, got a tough assignment. The thing about Jimmy is he doesn’t get discouraged. He’ll keep fighting. He has to guard everyone, he has to play-make. We ask him to do a lot. I don’t judge him on his scoring. I judge him on his contributions to winning. He’s done a lot for our team.”
Butler’s defensive assignment, second-year Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal, had 26 points in Tuesday’s Game 2, but still has a lot of respect for his counterpart’s defensive abilities.
“He’s strong, physical, real active on the ball and he’s a great help defender, too. So he’s always watching [Wizards’ All-Star point guard John Wall’s] eyes and makes sure he’s not trying to skip the ball or things like that,” Beal explained. “He’s a solid defender and takes pride in one-on-one defense, so he definitely makes it hard. He contests every shots. I have to give credit to him.”
Beal also realizes that Butler’s fatigue has likely factored into his lack of offensive production.
“Probably. I mean, he plays like 48 minutes a game—he plays the whole game. So I know there’s times where he’s going to get tired, so I try to use that to my advantage,” Beal said. “I just keep running and try to get him tired on the other end. And hopefully, he won’t be as aggressive on offense and I think he definitely exerts a lot of energy on defense.”
Similarly, Butler grudgingly credited Beal’s game, but seemed determined to not let the 20-year-old duplicate his last outing.
“I think they put the ball in his hands for a reason,” he said. “They run a lot of plays for him. It’s my job to step in and alter all that and get some stops.”
Butler sees Wizards veteran small forward Trevor Ariza, who has been offensively efficient while making an impact on defense—in Game 1, he hampered Mike Dunleavy Jr. and in the fourth quarter of Game 2, he slowed down D.J. Augustin—as a model of balance.
“I feel like I’m being more passive than [Ariza] is aggressive,” Butler said. “That’s on me to create shots and take a shot and not worry about missing.”
Thibodeau could alter his late-game rotation, giving Butler and others a blow, Friday—Bulls sixth man Taj Gibson offhandedly commented, “I look forward to seeing a lot of different guys in the lineup late in the fourth”—but Butler understands his big-minute role is better than the alternative.
“I wanted to play. Whenever I wasn’t playing as a first-year [player], I always told Thibs I wanted to play,” he recounted. “Hell, now I’m playing the whole game so I can’t say too much about that.”