With both Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony not playing, the star power was slightly reduced for the game between the New York Knicks, terrible anyway, and the Chicago Bulls, who don’t worry about those things. They have guys like Jimmy Butler to step up and indeed he did, not for the first time this season, carrying his team to a 103-97 win.
The big play that actually finally finished it for the Bulls was a great shot fake by Aaron Brooks. In the possession following Amare Stoudemire making it a one point game (98-97) with a minute left on the clock, Brooks took it quickly to the other side, faked a drive and pulled up for a shot. Instead of actually shooting, he passed it down low to a wide open Pau Gasol who scored an easy two points to make it once again a 3-point game, something the Knicks couldn’t bounce back from.
Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with a career high 35 points. Butler added an impressive stat line of five rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals, seeing a lot of the ball and moving it well when he wasn’t shooting or attacking the basket, once again leading him to take 10 shots from the line. Pau Gasol had a big game as well with 20 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks. In the carousel of big men injuries, it was Taj Gibson sitting out this one while Joakim Noah returned, scoring 4 points to go with 13 rebounds, shooting only 1-of-8 from the field.
The bench did a good job, as Aaron Brooks scored 18 points and Nikola Mirotic showed that the rookie of the year race might not be over, finishing with 13 in 27 minutes. As long as either Noah or Gibson aren’t playing, Mirotic has a chance to play 24 or more minutes a night. After a rocky start, he has started to understand NBA life and basketball a lot better, becoming a much more useful component of a team that can’t wait to finally get 100% healthy.
The Knicks are a mess and were missing Anthony, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. It gave Tim Hardaway a chance to lead the team with 23 points while Stoudemire scored 16. They gave themselves a fighting chance thanks to a much improved effort on defense compared to usual and doing pretty well on the offensive glass with 14 rebounds. But even with one point separating them and the Bulls, it always felt a bit out of reach for what just might be the worst team in the East except for the 76ers.
Butler is leading the Bulls with 21.5 points per game and is looking a lot more than just an improved player. A year later than it should have happened, he’s already one of the best shooting guards in the league on both ends of the floor. There’s not much of a competition for the spot in the Eastern conference, but keeping this form up should mean an All-Star appearance, his first, in the very near future.