Previous ArticlesBulls add to 76ers' woe with 91-81 victory
Butler finding his rhythm and not backing down
by Adam Fluck
Posted on Mar 24
Tom Thibodeau is a coach who wants his team playing its best as the postseason approaches.
That’s certainly been the case with Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, who has averaged 15.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.29 steals in 41.9 minutes in his last 14 games.
And while Butler has come around offensively, it’s his efforts on the other end of the floor which has his competitors taking notice.
“He’s a great defender,” acknowledged Indiana’s Paul George on Monday morning. “He’s good with his feet, he’s good with his hands. He knows team defense as well as being a great on ball defender. As an elite defender in the league, he’s one of the top ones.
“He is physical,” George added. “What makes him tough is that he’s not a back down kind of player. I enjoy going against him. He makes me better.”
Butler and George met just four days ago in Indiana when the Pacers recorded a 91-79 victory to take a 2-1 edge in the season series. Though George finished with his second career triple-double of 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, he shot just 3-of-13 from the field with Butler defending him the majority of his minutes.
“Jimmy is a fierce competitor,” said Thibodeau. “When you’re talking about Paul George, you’re talking about a guy who is superstar who maybe missed some shots that he normally makes. But I thought he made plays that hurt us. We can’t rely on Jimmy to take care of it all himself; we need everybody to be involved because of all the different ways he can hurt you.”
Thibodeau said he likes the way Butler has played all year, calling him a “huge part of our team.” But as he pointed out, one of the most challenging parts of Butler’s role comes on the defensive end, where he is often tasked with slowing down the opponent’s star player.
“There are no breaks for him,” said Thibodeau. “He’s got a primary scorer—for most teams in this league, one of their wings is going to be a load. In this case, one of the elite teams, or so-called elite teams and certainly their record says how good they are, but you’re talking about two guys that are very dynamic [in George and Lance Stephenson]. If you add in [Evan] Turner, there are three guys. They are such a well balanced team and their depth is significant.”
While Butler helping contain George will be one point of emphasis, the Bulls know they will also have to rebound in order to defeat the Pacers. In their last meeting, Indiana outrebounded Chicago 51-36, a fact that is not lost on Bulls center Joakim Noah.
“We’re playing against a very physical team,” said Noah. “A lot of talent, one of the best teams in the league right now. They’re in our division and they’re in our way. It’s going to be an exciting game. We’ve just got to find a way, whether it’s rebounding, I don’t care, we just have to find a way.
“Indiana is a team we want to beat,” Noah added. “We fell short last game and didn’t play our best. We have an opportunity to do it again tonight at the United Center in front of our fans.”
With a victory, Indiana will clinch the Central Division title. But Pacers coach Frank Vogel knows that won’t come easy.
“It’s always tough to get a win here, especially when the division is on the line,” said Vogel. “I’m very, very impressed with how hard they play in particular in this building and how hard Coach Thibs gets these guys playing. We’ll have to match their energy and execution.
“It’s a credit to their system,” Vogel added of Chicago’s success this season, “and obviously their leader, Joakim. He and Thibs keep things moving on a winning path regardless of what happens around them and you’ve got to credit both those guys.”
Audio—Tom Thibodeau on preparing for the Indiana Pacers (03.24.2014):
Audio—Pacers coach Frank Vogel on facing the Bulls (03.24.2014):