Off the court, Jimmy Butler is the charismatic, affable type, the opposite of his fiercely competitive on-court nature.
The third-year swingman is no-nonsense and plays a physical brand of basketball, but he doesn’t seek out altercations. That’s why it was surprising to see Butler and Nets All-Star Joe Johnson get into a third-quarter scuffle after Butler took exception to a Johnson elbow, then Johnson poked him in the face, leading to double technical fouls.
“I was mad. I was mad, for real. But I guess it’s just part of the game. A lot of emotion going on. That’s that," Butler, who also scored an efficient 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting, along with grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists, told CSNChicago.com. "Defense is what I take pride in. I feel like any time I go against that guy, I try extremely hard not to let him have a basket, so that’s good. I like the defensive mentality and the name I’m gaining for myself."
While the incident didn’t develop into anything serious — it was perhaps a carryover of last spring’s first-round playoff series, in which Butler frequently defended Johnson, who was held to 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting Thursday — it only burnished Butler’s merits as one of the better emerging young wing defenders in the league.
"Jimmy’s one of the best defenders in the league. I think that he’s going to get even better. He’s a great one-on-one defender, and I think he’s going to get even better with the way he communicates on the court. He’s definitely an All-Defensive Team-caliber player,” observed teammate Joakim Noah, who also quipped, “I’m trying to keep the peace, you know what I mean? I’m a peace and love kind of guy,” when asked about the Butler-Johnson dust-up. “He’s huge. Jimmy’s been playing great basketball, and I think the sky’s the limit for him. I think he can be even better, but I think he’s got the heart of a lion and he’s had that since Day 1. And with the way he works and I think the more he understands where he’s comfortable getting his scores, it’s going to be ugly.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau chimed in: “I thought he caught himself. I hate to see him with a technical foul and you get wrapped up, and now you’re putting it in the officials’ hands. But I thought after that, he settled down and he was very good. But he was good throughout the game. He just does so many things for us, and I think when we have Jimmy, Taj (Gibson) and Jo out there, along with Kirk (Hinrich), it allows you to do so many different things defensively.”