MEMPHIS—Coming off a 2-for-10 shooting night in 46 minutes of Saturday’s Bulls’ home loss to Dallas, not to mention a lingering right turf-toe injury, Jimmy Butler was due for some redemption.
The shooting guard delivered Monday night, scoring a season-high 26 points—on efficient 6-for-10 shooting from the field, including 2-for-3 from three-point range, and 12-for-14 from the free-throw line—in the Bulls’ 95-91 victory over the Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum.
“Jimmy was outstanding throughout,” gushed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. “I think his aggressiveness, you could see it and I think a big part of that is his timing. I’m watching how he’s working, so I feel pretty good. I know that it will come around. He did that earlier in the year. He’s put a lot of extra time in and I think being out there and playing has helped him. His defense is terrific, but we need him running the floor, making his cuts, driving the ball, getting to the free-throw line. Those are big plays for us.”
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Butler got back to his old self against Memphis, looking like the player fans fell in love over the second half of last season. While he knocked down open jumpers, his success was predicated on his aggressiveness, as he flourished in both transition and driving to the basket against the Grizzlies’ physical set defense, showcasing his knack for drawing fouls.
“My teammates gave me a lot of confidence and put me in positions to score, and get to the foul line, get out into the open floor. A lot of that goes to them,” said Butler, always quick to credit other players when he plays well. “I sat down with a few of these vets today at brunch and they just talked to me, and just told me to play my game and have fun. When you have fun, everything else takes care of itself.”
Thibodeau also believes Butler is learning how to navigate playing through injuries, a new area for the third-year swingman.
“I’m watching how he’s reacting and the things he’s doing, the things that he’s saying and I think he’s a mentally tough kid, so he had a day to gather himself. Then, he got right back in there and he was attacking, and he’s at his best when he’s attacking at both ends,” the coach observed. “He’s had a few bumps this season, but he’ll keep grinding. That’s why, even after the last game, you feel good. When you see a guy come in every night to work on his game, it may not be going well at that point, but you know it’s going to turn and when you put the work into it, good things happen.”