It was Pau Gasol who scored the game winning dunk as the Chicago Bulls beat the Orlando Magic 98-97, but the best player on the floor for them was Jimmy Butler, who seems to be over whatever it was that dragged down his play last month.
Butler led the Bulls with 27 points, averaging 25.8 per game over the last five. After the Magic took a six point lead (97-91) through a brave Victor Oladipo drive to the basket, Butler was the one who finally got the late surge going with a couple of free throws, finishing for a second consecutive game with 6-for-6. He also shot 9-of-16 from the field and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc, back to around 50% in recent games after shooting just under 42% through January.
Butler then managed to squirm his way out of a double team to find a wide open Derrick Rose. It was a bad shooting night for Rose (4-of-14 from the field, o-for-3 from beyond the arc until that moment), but he had no problem taking the final shots. He nailed the 3-pointer with 19 seconds to go, putting the Bulls within one of the Magic. Orlando turned the ball over on a back court violation on the next play, leaving Chicago with 15 seconds to try and win the game.
Rose didn’t hesitate. He drove to the basket from the left and floated with a tough layup, or maybe an attempted Alley-Oop pass? Either way, Rose missed his shot but Pau Gasol wasn’t boxed out and had no problem putting the Bulls in the lead for good with a put back dunk. The Magic had two shots to try and win the game in the remaining nine seconds but Nikola Vucevic missed a tough jumper and Tobias Harris missed a shot from underneath the basket before a Gasol rebound ended the game for good.
It’s easy to see the Bulls needed this win badly. Things simply aren’t flowing for them. Thiboedau keeps making changes to his lineup, this time giving Tony Snell the opportunity. Unlike their better stretches this season, Chicago got nothing out of the bench players, combining to score only 10 points. But until everyone comes back from their injuries (still waiting for Mike Dunleavy), we’re probably going to still see Chicago struggle to put a cohesive, flowing offensive performance together.
Their struggles have already cost them quite a few games, dropping down in the Eastern conference seeding and now once again trying to build a winning streak to bounce them back up. Gasol seems to be the one constant this season, adding another double double in this win with 25 points and 15 rebounds, with Joakim Noah being a lot more helpful (on offense) than usual, scoring 18 points to go with 9 rebounds. Taj Gibson on the other hand remains a disappointment, which means the trade rumors will continue after a two points in 22 minutes performance.
While the Bulls have always been a team hinging and waiting for Derrick Rose to return, it might be that the form of Jimmy Butler and his confidence in his shot and overall offense means a lot more to them. There’s more to this team than this and that player having big offensive nights and how it correlates with wins – it’s more complicated and fragile than that in its balance, but having a go to guy for most of the night you can rely on isn’t a bad thing. Butler seems to be that player once again after a short break.