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updated: 4/26/2014 12:02 AM

Butler as much as anybody epitomizes these Bulls

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  • Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) is pulled away by forward Taj Gibson (22) after an altercation with Washington Wizards forward Nene in the second half of Game 3 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series Friday night. Nene received a double technical and was ejected. The Bulls won 100-97.

      Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) is pulled away by forward Taj Gibson (22) after an altercation with Washington Wizards forward Nene in the second half of Game 3 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series Friday night. Nene received a double technical and was ejected. The Bulls won 100-97.
    Associated Press

 
 

Jimmy Butler on Friday night represented what the Bulls have been all season.

They lost superstar Derrick Rose after 10 games. Then they gave away all-star Luol Deng for financial reasons. This week they went down 2-0 in their playoff series against the Wizards.

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Then, thanks in large part to Butler, the Bulls came back to win Game 3 at Washington to maintain a chance to survive this NBA East quarterfinal.

Butler was shoved like the Bulls have been. He was head-butted. He was grabbed around the neck.

All that punishment was inflicted by Wizards forward Nene -- yes, the fabled one-name Nene -- who was ejected with 8:28 left in the game.

Butler?

He maintained his composure, played on and made big plays down the stretch of the Bulls' 100-97 victory.

A loss would have given the Wizards a 3-0 lead, and no NBA team has rallied from that deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series.

"(Jimmy) got tangled up," said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau of the altercation. "I thought Jimmy showed a lot of poise after that."

Immediately afterward Butler recorded his first 3-point basket of the series to give the Bulls a 5-point lead.

From there the Bulls had to hang on, at first unsuccessfully as the Wizards forged a 91-91 with 43 seconds remaining.

With the shot clock running down, Butler hit another 3-pointer to give the Bulls a 94-91 lead. Later he hit 2 free throws to make it 96-93.

Remember, this is a guy who played all 53 minutes of Game 2's overtime loss and conceded Friday morning that he was a bit fatigued. Not too fatigued to play 40 more minutes, score 15 points on just 7 shots and respond fittingly to Nene's roughing tactics.

"Just two competitors competing," is how the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Butler described to CSN Chicago his run-in with the 6-11, 250-pound Nene.

Competing is what the Bulls have done all season despite losing Rose and Deng. At Christmastime many expected them to miss the playoffs and qualify for the draft lottery.

"Just keep grinding," Thibodeau said of what the Bulls did instead.

Butler exemplified that spirit by taking what Nene was giving and then contributing enough big plays to keep the Bulls' in the series.

If not for Mike Dunleavy, however, nothing that any of the other Bulls did would have mattered.

"(Dunleavy) kept us in the game," Thibodeau said.

As characteristic of the Bulls that Butler's performance was, that's how uncharacteristic Dunleavy's was.

Maybe you have heard and heard and then heard this some more: Without Rose and Deng, the Bulls need someone to provide offense.

Well, that's what Dunleavy did and did and did some more. As Thibodeau said, "He made one big shot after the next."

Dunleavy scored 35 points, hitting 12 of 19 shots from the field, including 8 of 10 from 3-point range.

When the Wizards threatened to pull away, Dunleavy would step behind the line and keep victory within reach.

"Dunleavy played huge for us," Bulls center Joakim Noah said.

If Dunleavy was responsible for the Bulls remaining in contention, Butler was responsible for making sure they didn't let the game slip away when the fourth quarter became really wild.

"You have to keep your composure," Noah said of Noah losing his. "It definitely was a bonus for us to have him out of the game because he's a big part of what they do."

So maybe the Butler-Nene confrontation was the pivotal play that sparked the Bulls' victory.

"I'm really proud of him," Noah said of Butler. "I know how hard he works."

How hard does Butler work?

Sort of as hard as the Bulls have had to work this season.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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