BULLet Points: Bulls Beat Hornets in Butler’s Return

  • The story heading into Monday night’s game at the United Center was the much anticipated return of All-Star Jimmy Butler. Butler had not played in the last eleven games after injuring his elbow against the Clippers. The Bulls kept the ship afloat in his absence, going an impressive 5-6 considering all the other injuries the team was dealing with. While Butler showed some rust in his return to the court, it was great to have him back.
  • Butler shot only 30% from the field, connecting on six of his 20 attempts. Butler still managed to score 19 points thanks to his willingness to drive to the basket and draw contact as he visited the charity stripe ten times on the night. Butler looked fresh and explosive despite logging 40 minutes in his return. His dynamic offensive game will return soon once he rediscovers his groove. These last three weeks may prove to be a blessing in disguise as Jimmy will enter the postseason somewhat rested after being the league leader in minutes prior to his injury.
  • Pau Gasol had an impressive game by box score standards. He scored 27 points on 11-19 shooting, including a clutch three as time expired in the third quarter. Gasol also snagged twelve rebounds and swatted four shots in the game. But the box score does not tell the full story, as Gasol’s slow feet and inability to help in the pick and roll helped keep the Hornets in the game. Lightning quick guards, like Kemba Walker, have little fear going right at Gasol in the paint. While Gasol does manage to block a lot of shots – 1.9 a game for the season – I believe it is a direct result of opposing ball handlers having the confidence to go right at the lumbering Spaniard over and over. Per NBA.com, no player defends more field goal attempts in the paint as Pau Gasol (10.3/game)
  • Nikola Mirotic had himself a game. In 32 minutes off the bench, the former Spanish League MVP scored 28 points on 10-19 shooting. Niko shot only 1-6 from beyond the arc, missing a handful of wide open shots, but managed to score in a variety of different ways. At one point in the second half, as the Bulls were starting to pull away, Mirotic recognized he was being guarded by the smaller Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, one of the premier wing defenders in the league. Mirotic calmly posted him up, made a nifty spin move towards the baseline and laid in an easy bucket. Considering the game situation and the personnel, this was one of my favorite plays of the game.
  • Of course, Niko was also responsible for this:

  •  Poor Jason Maxiell he probably should have stayed home. Maxiell, who played only eleven minutes, was 0-4 from the field, a -14 on the court, and fouled out. And he was  turned into poster fodder. Poor Jason Maxiell.
  • Kemba Walker is awesome to watch. I must admit, I didn’t expect anything of Walker when he entered the league as an undersized shoot-first point guard. But Walker is a magician with the ball, and several times throughout the game, especially during a very entertaining stretch of the third quarter, Kemba did things that elicited yelps from my couch.
  • Now the Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson have returned from injury and the Bulls are (nearly) full strength, it will be interesting to see how Coach Thibodeau adjusts his rotations. If Monday’s minute distributions are a sign of more things to come, than Bulls fans have a right to be frustrated. As Jake went into great length about over the weekend, Thibodeau’s stubborn attitude towards changing his rotation will ultimately sink the Bulls in the playoffs. Kirk Hinrich logged 30 minutes, while the hot shooting Tony Snell played only 16 and attempted just one shot, which he missed. E’Twaun Moore, who played admirably over the last month as Bulls began dropping like flies, did not step foot onto the floor. Joakim Noah sat out Monday’s game to give his body some rest, but when he returns it will be very interesting to see how having four healthy big men impacts the number of minutes Mirotic sees every night.
  • Overall, this was a nice win for the Bulls after a disheartening loss to the Pistons on Saturday. Charlotte has been the best defensive team in the league since January 1st and beat the Bulls convincingly just ten days ago. It was great to see the Bulls rise to the challenge. Hopefully, as guys return to the court and build more confidence in themselves and each other, games like this will again be the norm.
  • I’m gonna go buy a Mirotic jersey.
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