Early in the fourth quarter Sunday, Miami superstar LeBron James went to the bench for a 2½-minute rest.
Jimmy Butler, his rest was to spend those 2½ minutes guarding Dwyane Wade. When James returned, Butler switched back to LeBron.
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Has Butler ever thought about asking coach Tom Thibodeau to make things a little more fair and equal when he has to guard James?
"That's what I asked for since my rookie year, so I can't go back and say, 'Thibs, I don't want to guard their best player,' " Butler said. "I'm here."
Somehow, at the end of the game, Butler found the energy to make decisive plays on both ends. The Bulls trailed by 12 points early in the fourth quarter but fought back, dominated the boards in overtime and pulled out a typically hard-fought 95-88 battle against the Heat at the United Center.
Joakim Noah had a monster game, finishing with 20 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 blocks, in addition to leading the cheers during an intense fourth quarter and overtime.
The Bulls improved to 7-1 against the Heat at the United Center since the start of the 2010-11 season. Of course, the Bulls are 1-4 at home against Miami in the playoffs during that time span.
"This is what you play basketball for. I love it," Noah said. "I'm having a great time, having a blast out there. Beating Miami, I don't care if it's the regular season, it's always special."
After losing at Miami on Feb. 23, Noah talked about how the Bulls "have to hate playing these guys." His message was received, apparently.
"We played with a lot of hate today … a lot of hate," Noah said with a smile.
As well as Noah played, an argument could be made that Butler was the game's MVP. He finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 4 steals, while playing combative defense for all 48 minutes he was on the floor.
Wade led Miami with 25 points. James finished with 17 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists but hit just 8 of 23 shots from the field and attempted no free throws in a game for the first time since Dec. 2, 2009.
After Kirk Hinrich's scoop shot tied the score with 20.1 seconds left, the Heat had a chance to win in regulation.
James took some time off the clock, then got a screen hoping to create a defensive switch onto D.J. Augustin.
The Bulls weren't giving in to that one. Butler stayed in pursuit as James took off for the basket. Despite falling a step behind during the screen, Butler recovered to strip the ball from James' grasp before he could get a shot up. Noah grabbed it and time expired.
"I don't know, effort," Butler said when asked how he got the stop. "I feel like that's what a lot of defense is. Just the want to and the will to fight through a screen and try and never give up on a play. I feel like that's what I did."
James takes plenty of heat for complaining about calls, but he stayed away from it after the game.
"I just dropped the ball," he said. "I give a lot of credit to Jimmy. He got his hand on the ball."
A few minutes earlier, Butler got another strip on a James drive, which led to a fastbreak slam by Taj Gibson.
In overtime, it was all about the offensive boards. The Bulls produced a commanding 27-6 advantage in second-chance points and started overtime with 7 straight.
First, a Gibson offensive rebound led to a wide-open 3-pointer by Augustin (22 points). Then Butler grabbed a miss in traffic, and the ensuing possession ended with Butler rattling home a jumper. Finally, Noah ripped a rebound away from Chris Andersen and finished the lay-in.
On the next trip, Noah blocked a shot by Mario Chalmers, which led to a fastbreak and 2 free throws by Butler, which made it 95-86 with 1:33 remaining.
This game fell right in line with the changing face of the Bulls. Derrick Rose's injuries removed their superstar, but they've found success riding the grit and grind of Butler, Noah and Gibson.
"Jimmy's a fierce, fierce competitor," Thibodeau said. "He's got great feet, strength, anticipation, intelligence.
"All the things Jo does, Jimmy does. He's a great competitor. We need that. When you're short-handed, you need to play with great effort all the time."