Jimmy Butler was once just a complementary piece for the Chicago Bulls, but an intensifying fourth quarter stretch further proved he's become much, much more. If you think otherwise, look no further than Butler's key 14 points in the fourth quarter and 31 for the game on Monday in the Windy City, helping the Bulls to a 91-82 win that gave Chicago a 2-0 series lead over the Milwaukee Bucks.
A Game 2 in Chicago that included two physical scuffles, a Zaza Pachulia ejection and an ugly first half shooting display leaned in the Bulls' favor thanks largely to Butler, and they now have the opportunity to go up 3-0 on Milwaukee on Thursday. Sometimes history doesn't mean much, but in franchise history, the Bucks have posted an 0-16 record in playoff series when down 0-2.
Credit the Bucks for playing better defensively for the majority of Game 2 compared to Game 1, and credit them for not being bullied in a hostile environment, but their weakness of not being able to stop a monstrous Butler and Derrick Rose once again proved to be game-changing in the second half.
The Bucks held the Bulls to just 11 points while scoring 16 themselves at the end of the first, with both teams hitting a quarter or less of their shots in the opening stanza. Milwaukee forced the Bulls to commit four turnovers early and start just 2-of-11 from the field. Defensively, they were the Bucks they've been known for: High hands, helping one another and making stops. According to Basketball Reference, the 11 points they held Chicago to turned out to actually be the fewest point total in the first-round of the NBA playoffs in the shot clock era.
"That first quarter wasn't pretty," Jason Kidd said in his postgame presser, "but that was our pace. It was slow, it was ugly, but it gave us confidence going into the second quarter."
Both teams combined to shoot just 24 percent on just 11-of-45 shots from the field in the first and under 40 at the half.
"For us, we've got to make open shots and finish at the rim. We missed a lot of bunnies in the paint," Kidd said.
Rose was frozen in the first half, missing his first seven shots from the field as the Bucks managed to cut off and contest his drives into the paint. Twelve points including two triples from Rose finally managed to turn things around as Chicago assisted on nine of their 10 made baskets along with pilling on 32 in the third.
Butler then slashed and shot his way to 14 points (4-of-5 shooting) in the final period, two of them on a thunderous driving slam after a timeout. Rose eventually ended with 15 and topped the game off with a signature crossover jumper from the top right that gave the Bulls a nine-point lead with 54 ticks left.
"Butler was a one-man show being able to shoot the three and also get to the basket." Kidd said.
Rose also added nine assists and seven rebounds, falling just short of a triple-double. The two combined for 19 of Chicago's 32 third quarter points.
"Any guy can go off at anytime," Kidd said of Chicago, "and they've been in the playoffs before so they understand this moment. We just didn't slow them down."
If the Bucks want to have any chance at slowing Chicago down Thursday, many eyes will be on Giannis Antetokounmpo, who's just 6-of-24 shooting in his first postseason trip on top of staying in foul trouble in both games. If the Bucks can't protect their home-court in a place that will still likely be swarmed by Bulls fans, erasing that historic mark won't happen.
"We've got to go home and protect home." O.J. Mayo said. "They did their job, we tried to come here and steal one. They protected home, now it's our turn."
If they wish to do so, slowing down Chicago's spirited backcourt is a good start.