Anybody who has watched this event probably doesn’t see it as much of a reward, but Carlos Boozer spent time after a 93-85 victory over Charlotte talking up the rookie-sophomore game during NBA all-star weekend.
“Quick shoutout: Get Jimmy Butler in the rookie-sophomore game,” Boozer said following Monday’s game at the United Center. “He deserves to be there. Can you guys write about that, do my man a favor?
“He needs to be in that game. He deserves it. He’s playing like an animal, man.”
Oddly enough, Butler’s star rose even after Luol Deng returned from a hamstring injury.
Despite being back in a reserve role, Butler scored a career-high 19 points as the Bulls avenged an embarrassing New Year’s Eve loss to the Bobcats. Joakim Noah added 18 rebounds, 13 points and 7 assists.
Butler played very well during his five starts in place of Deng. Playing the role of an unassuming No. 30 draft pick to perfection, Butler sent all credit to his teammates.
“It’s not my play that gains confidence; it’s my teammates telling me I can do it,” he said. “They never really said, ‘Be Lu.’ They were just saying, ‘Be you.’ Be that energy guy that guards and locks down and hustles.
“That’s just what I brought to the table as a starter. That’s what I bring to the table off the bench. That’s who I am.”
Butler was asked if his life has changed at all after performing well as a starter gave him a higher profile around town and across the NBA world.
“Nothing changes. I don’t want anything to change,” he said. “I still want to be the small-town kid from Tomball (Texas) that floats under the radar. If you sleep on anybody on this team, they can come back and get you.”
That’s one good reason for Butler to grab a spot in the rookie-sophomore exhibition. The All-Star Game is in Houston next month, and Butler grew up just down the road.
“He should be in there,” teammate Nate Robinson said. “If not, he’s been robbed.”
Deng finished with 12 points in 31 minutes and claimed to have no concerns about the hamstring injury.
“Honestly, I was a little worried,” he said. “I haven’t gone full speed like that. I was worried a little bit about the change of speed, so I’m happy to not have setbacks or any problems. I felt a little tight but didn’t feel like I felt before I did it the last time.”
While everyone else jumped on the “Jimmy for rookie-sophomore” bandwagon, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau sneaked in a plug for Deng as defensive player of the year.
“I knew the matchups weren’t great for him, but his length and knowing how to play guys is a huge factor for us,” Thibodeau said. “There may not be a better defender in the league than him.”
Robinson got on one of his rolls at the start of the fourth quarter. He began by draining a 3-pointer, then threw a long pass to Butler for a fastbreak dunk.
About a minute later, Robinson grabbed a Charlotte miss, raced downcourt and tossed up a 3-point attempt with about 20 seconds left on the shot clock. Everything about it screamed bad idea, but the shot went in, giving the Bulls a 71-57 advantage with 10:29 left.
Robinson wasn’t finished. After Noah hit a jumper, Robinson stole the ensuing inbounds pass, missed a quick corner 3-pointer, grabbed the rebound and put it in for a 75-61 lead.
“He knocked down a couple shots,” Thibodeau said. “A couple probably could have been a little better, but that’s Nate. I thought overall he played very, very well.”
Charlotte closed within 6 points a few times late in the game, and the Bulls had an answer.
First, Butler ripped a rebound away from Bobcats center Bismack Biyombo and hit a hanging lay-in. Then Boozer showed some rarely seen hops by hammering a dunk over Biyombo, making it 88-80 with 1:25 remaining.
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