As anyone who follows the Chicago Bulls is doubtless aware, if the Bulls score 100 points and win at the United Center, all fans receive a free Big Mac from McDonalds. So, when Joakim Noah stepped to the free throw line with 23 seconds left and drained the first of two shots to give the Bulls 99 points and a six point lead, the fans were just a bit excited.
Noah, of course, missed the second free throw, but Kirk Hinrich was fouled shortly thereafter. The fans were even louder now.
He missed both.
Anyway, the Bulls looked…meh tonight. They looked good early, before the Orlando Magic made a run from the end of the first quarter into the second. They looked not good in the second and third quarters, before catching fire from midrange in the fourth quarter as they came from behind and put the Magic to bed.
There's not a whole lot to take away from this game, except for two things. First, with three games worth of evidence now, it's clear the Bulls will live and die with their midrange jumpers. When they're knocking them down, as they did in Cleveland last Friday and in the fourth quarter tonight, they look really, really good. When they're not, as was the case on Saturday against New Orleans and in the second and third quarters tonight, they look really, really bad. Get used to it.
The other interesting development was the lineup that brought the Bulls back: Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Nate Robinson. We pretty much already knew that the finishing point guard spot would depend almost entirely on who was playing better until Derrick Rose comes back. Robinson outplayed Hinrich for the most part, so he was given the minutes in the fourth quarter. Deng and Noah are givens, and the power forward spot was also determined by who was playing better. But you may notice that Jimmy Butler snuck his way into that lineup.
Now, that was mostly dictated by the matchups. The Magic ran both Arron Afflalo and JJ Reddick out there down the stretch, who both gave the Bulls problems throughout the game. Afflalo finished with 28-5-5 and while Reddick didn't shoot as well as he could have, he scored 10 points to go with 7 assists. So while Deng took Afflalo, somebody needed to check Reddick.
Enter Jimmy Butler.
This could easily be a fluke. A one-time, 22-minute appearance that ultimately means nothing.
Or it could be a turning point. The point where Jimmy Butler earned Tom Thibodeau's trust.
Jimmy Butler shut JJ Reddick down in the fourth quarter. This is a fact. He finished +13 on the night. He only scored four points on 1/3 from the field, but knocked down a pair of free throws to help clinch the game down the stretch, grabbed three rebounds and had a pair of assists.
Again, maybe this is nothing. Just a flash in the pan.
But don't be surprised to see Jimmy Butler starting by the end of the year. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Player o' the Game: Joakim Noah. 20 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 blocks.
Joakim pretty much did everything he needed to. He shut down Glen "Big Baby" Davis. He patrolled the paint. He scored in the post, hit jumpers and played the pick and roll. Joakim Noah is absolutely playing like an all-star right now.
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