Gasol and Butler don’t star but are Stars


Feb 16

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Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler Sunday were hardly the main attractions in the annual mid season circus and skills competition the NBA calls its All-Star game.

Amidst a near record 41 points for MVP winner Russell Westbrook in the Western Conference’s 163-158 bowling score event that was an alltime record for points, there were the usual assortment of alley oop dunks, behind the back and lookaway passes and three pointers coming like confetti, an amazing 133 overall with a half dozen players trying at least 10.

“I had no plan,” admitted Western Conference coach. “It’s an All-Star game. It was just roll the ball out and let them play.”

The Bulls guys, Gasol and Butler, got to play some.

Gasol did so more in a symbolic way as part of the first brother combination to start against one another in an NBA All-Star game.

He had 10 points and 12 rebounds in about 26 minutes, winning the opening tip, but mostly getting the ball only when he could find an offensive rebound. Four of his five shots came off them.

“It doesn’t really favor our game because guards have the ball and shots go up,” said Pau. “Marc and I tried to make basketball plays. It was great, an amazing experience and we just congratulated each other for the moment, the accomplishment. The emotional moment was to jump against your brother at that particular moment; to win (the jump) it was just a curiosity basically. The emotions were flowing. It was a fun game, a special game for us, just exciting. We were looking forward to it. It was hard to believe it happened. We just both went out there and competed and played basketball like we know how to do.

“Fifteen, does it count (toward his double/double streak),” Pau said with a laugh. “Just kidding. It’s something very unique, very special, something that never happened. Pretty remarkable we were the first ones to actually do it. I’m very proud. It’s an incredible experience to be able to share this type of moment with your brother.”

It was incredible in another way for Butler, the unexpected first time All-Star. Butler played just over nine minutes, the fewest in the game. He had six points and two steals with a pair of dunks after entering to start the second quarter, one on an alley oop pass from Jeff Teague and another on a pass from former teammate Kyle Korver, who passed up a three to pass to an open Butler.

Though most everyone was open most of the time.

Korver did get up a dozen threes, making seven for 21 points, second most points among East players behind LeBron James with 30. James Harden added 29 points for the Western Conference with seven of 12 threes. The West led by 20 in the first half, saw the East pull ahead midway through the fourth and then closed it out with Harden and Westbrook threes late.

“Catching passing from him (Korver) brought back memories,” said Butler. “He draws so much attention the way he shoots the ball. He could have kept shooting, but he found a lot of open guys. I miss that guy. He’s a hell of a player, a hell of a shooter, obviously, but more hell of a person.

“Nine minutes was plenty for me,” Butler added. “I talked to coach before the game, told him how I was feeling (with his strainer shoulder). He said we’ll get you out there and get you off, so happy with that.

“I’ll be ready to go (Friday against the Pistons),” Butler said of the first Bulls game after the extended All-Star break. “I have to get back to Chicago and get my stuff right. This break is a for a reason, to rest your body and recover. So I have a few days to do so. Treatment, I’ll be back in Chicago, get my body right. That’s more important than going on a beach for me. I want to make sure I can give my all for my team.”

Which in many respects was the story of the Bulls stars. They were in New York for the honor, which is extraordinary, Pau with his first All-Star start and Butler in his first such game. But their minds were with their teammates back home and ready to make a push in the unofficial second part of the season.

“It’s special,” agreed Butler. “You’re on TV with all the great players in this league; it’s humbling. But I guess that’s where the hard work gets you. I’m going to continue to work and get better, but this is just another step. Now I have to get back to the Chicago Bulls and help them win some games.”

Doing that, says Pau, will require more commitment and purpose than the team showed at times in the first few months. But Pau says he believes the team is poised.

“We just need to build more consistency, play with a better sense of urgency every game,” said Pau of the Bulls. “Understand the importance of each and every game and understand we have now almost two months left for the regular season and every game is important, especially how the standings are. We can’t take any setbacks.

“We have a chance to win; that’s the biggest difference (for me from my last two seasons),” said Pau. “Definitely encouraging (winning the last four). But now we have these couple of days to lock back in and understand the importance of each and every game. We had great games this season, but we had some really bad ones as well. We need to have great games consistently because we are capable of playing at a very high level.

“It’s not because today it’s a tougher opponent, let’s bring our energy,” Pau said about some up and down games for the Bulls. “Let’s bring our toughness and let’s do the little things (every game). We have to do them on a consistent basis regardless of our opponent. Every game (now) has more importance because the margin of error is smaller. The value of each and every game is maximized and we have to understand that.”

And then there was Sunday, which is more extravaganza than sport.

That it was in New York drew even more attention and celebrities, including former President Bill Clinton at Sunday’s game. Others popping up in the crowd included boxer Floyd Mayweather, Rihanna, Chris Rock and Phil Jackson and fiancée Jeanne tweeting a selfie picture. Singer Christina Aguilera performed backed by the dancing Rockettes and wearing sort of a top and Queen Latifah sang the national anthem. There were parties around the city as Butler enjoyed one with Michael Jordan watching Prince perform for two hours. Butler also hung out at the luxurious West Village townhouse that was a celebrity must hosted by the Beats by Dre music company.

And then there was the game, the event that brought everyone to New York but least important on the schedule. It was the invite that mattered, like at the fancy parties.

“It was cool, a lot of fun, just playing basketball with a lot of good players in this league,” said Butler. “What did I particularly like? To see all of those talents on the floor at one time. Just having fun and playing a game. Everybody out there was kind of playing to win. I definitely (enjoyed it), but I wish I were 100 percent healthy so I could do a lot more.

“A few of my guys were, ‘Yo, chill don’t do all of that’ (defense). I couldn’t be the player that I am,” said Butler.
“Overall this being my first All-Star game; that’s a moment in itself. Everybody told me (the introduction) would be pretty cool and it was. Hopefully that’s not the last chance I hope to get to do something like that.

“When it hit me was when I was checking into the game,” said Butler. “I was great until that point, but then you check into the game and it’s like, you are really here. So that was the moment for me. All the superstars and all stars in this league on one court; it’s special and I got to be a part of that.”

Gasol has been there before, though never quite in these circumstances facing his brother and as a starter. It was his evening to remember.

“It’s an incredible moment to share,” said Pau, who embraced with Marc before the opening tip and at game’s end. “I think it’s a great, inspiring, hopefully thing for brothers, that we can make it, too, or we can have successful careers whether in the same professions or others profession. It’s exciting to go through something like this at this level.

“I hope they (parents) were very proud and thrilled and happy about what their sons were doing and have accomplished,” said Pau. “It was a game offensive oriented, a game the guys try to be extra aggressive and the shots go up quickly. So this type of game you try to put on a good show for the fans and try to do fun and attractive things for the fans and that’s what guys tried to do tonight.”

Said Kerr: “The opening tip was fun. Just to see them jumping against each other and to think about them growing up in Spain and whoever would have guessed one day they would jump center at the NBA All-Star game in Madison Square Garden. That was a special moment.”

Just one of many for two of Chicago’s finest.

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