By Mike McGraw
The loss in Dallas on Saturday, where the Bulls blew a 12-point lead in the final four minutes, was tough on every player.
But Jimmy Butler, who missed 2 free throws just before Dirk Nowitzki nailed the game-winning 3-pointer, had it particularly rough. In the locker room after the game, he pinned the loss on himself.
The Bulls had no choice but to regroup quickly. They fell behind 18-5 against struggling Detroit on Sunday at the United Center but managed to rally in the fourth quarter for a 95-94 victory, their 18th straight against the Pistons.
“It was tough. After my two, three hours of sleep, I got here super early to shoot some free throws and some jumpers, because I don’t want to play like that,” Butler said. “I feel like no one wants to play like that.
“They always say, that’s the beauty of this league because there’s another game in a day or two days, three days. We just had to forget about that one ASAP and get ready for Detroit.”
Butler’s night got off to a poor start when he ended up on the floor, his nose throbbing, late in the first quarter.
It was a strange play. Detroit guard Brandon Knight was called for traveling and kept running toward the basket. As he approached Butler, Knight sort of nonchalantly raised his arm and struck Butler with his elbow.
As teammate Nate Robinson came to Butler’s defense and shoved a few Pistons, officials reviewed the play and gave Knight a flagrant foul — not strong enough to merit an ejection, but 2 free throws and possession. Robinson and Detroit’s Kyle Singler were given technicals.
After the game, Butler was able to joke about the play, even though his nose was clearly swollen.
“It was cool to look up to Nate for once when I was on the floor,” he said. “He (Knight) didn’t do it on purpose. He’s not that type of player. Without a doubt, it hurt, whether he did it on purpose or not.”
Eventually, Luol Deng scored 28 points, while Butler and Robinson added 16 points each to rally the Bulls. In this season’s previous 2 wins over the Pistons, the Bulls rallied from 17 points down each time. So it took 47 points of comeback, but they kept alive the winning streak against Detroit.
The Bulls didn’t pull even until Butler’s steal and slam made it 78-78 with 9:27 remaining. A few minutes later, Robinson missed a shot, then stole the rebound away from Detroit’s Charlie Villanueva and knocked down a 3-point to put the Bulls ahead 91-84 with 3:55 left.
Villanueva ended up missing a potential tying 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds on the clock. Daequan Cook hit a free throw to make it 95-91, and Rodney Stuckey’s 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds left was inconsequential.
“I was concerned about this game coming off yesterday’s tough loss, back to back and early start,” Thibodeau said. “Our team needs to understand the importance of readiness to play. We dodged a bullet. Defensively, we were better in the second half.”
The Pistons finished with a 1-13 March record and haven’t won at the United Center since 2006. At the start of this one, though, they resembled a team that was tired of losing. Stuckey led the visitors with 25 points.
“We’re not psychic, so we don’t know how we’re going to start the game,” Robinson said. “Some days it’s going to be good, some days it’s going to be bad. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
Deng turned in another strong performance, getting to the foul line 17 times and adding a team-high 9 rebounds.
“Shooting comes and goes, but I’m always in the gym, always shooting,” he said. “There are days when you feel great, and I’ve been shooting well lately.”
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