‘Phenomenal’ Butler does it with 52 for Bulls

Jimmy Butler poured in 52 points with 12 rebounds and six assists to lead the short-handed Chicago Bulls to a 118-111 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Monday.
Butler posted his third 40-point game of the season and was just one shy of his career high. He made 21 of 22 free-throw attempts, connected on nine of 13 shots in the second half and produced 17 points in the fourth quarter to spark chants of “MVP! MVP!” from an ecstatic United Center crowd.
“I think it’s an understatement to say Jimmy was phenomenal tonight,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He did it every which way.”
With veteran guard Dwyane Wade sidelined by a swollen knee and point guard Rajon Rondo benched by Hoiberg, Butler refused to let the Bulls endure a third straight defeat.
He scored 17 points in a fourth quarter in which the Bulls outscored the Hornets 36-26.
“I was just playing basketball,” Butler said. “I just had a groove.”
Doug McDermott, starting in place of Wade, scored 11 points for the Chicago. Nikola Mirotic added 12 points off the bench and Michael Carter-Williams, starting in place of Rondo, chipped in 10.
Chicago’s Taj Gibson and Mirotic produced key defensive plays down the stretch, Gibson with a block and Mirotic with a steal. Kemba Walker led Charlotte with 34 points and 11 rebounds. Nicolas Batum added 19 and Jeremy Lamb had 15.
But the Hornets couldn’t stop Butler. “Our defence is soft,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said. “We can’t just pick and choose when to play it.”
An 8-1 scoring run to start the second half had seen the Hornets build an eight-point lead. But not for the first time, they couldn’t hang on in the final period.
“It’s been our problem for the last couple of games and the last couple of weeks,” Batum said. “We just stop scoring and stop making plays. It was another big loss for us.”
For Chicago, it was a big win after a shaky finish to 2016. And it came just in time to give them a boost heading into Wednesday’s clash with the NBA champions Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I think this is kind of a statement game,” McDermott said. “New year — we just kind of (have to) change our attitude.
“Coach Hoiberg kind of told us that in a meeting today — let’s just forget everything that has happened and move forward. And we just really responded to his message tonight and I think it’s great to see.” — AFP