From The Other Side: Butler and Dunleavy Step Up (and Noah Reflects)
Prior to last night’s game, Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy, Jr. had not exactly made substantial team contributions during this Bulls vs. Wizards series. Dunleavy had a hot shooting third quarter in Game 1, and Butler played nearly every minute in Game 2, but neither one of their exploits resulted in a Bulls’ win. Last night, Butler and Dunleavy were the two reasons the Bulls found themselves victorious.
Butler was relatively quiet through three quarters with just four points, but came alive in the last quarter with 11 points, including two 3s and five points (out of six attempts) from the free throw line. Nine of those points came after he and Nene got into a bit of a skirmish (which resulted in Nene’s ejection), most notably a 3-pointer which Butler sank just 20 seconds after Nene ran to the locker room for the night.
Dunleavy had the hot hand the entire night, and he was unfazed by the defense of Bradley Beal (who falsely promised that Dunleavy would not score) and Trevor Ariza, who had done an effective job in shutting down D.J. Augustin. Coming into this series, the Bulls were billed as a team who could not score and relied on the contributions of all seven players in the rotation (five starters and two bench subs) to win games. Dunleavy was not fazed by that narrative at all, and went out and shot 12-for-19 from the floor (8-for-10 from the 3-point line) for 35 points. Nineteen of those points were scored in the decisive second half.
When the Chicago Bulls PR staff announced that Dunleavy had been chosen to speak in front of the NBA TV podium in the main media room, Joakim Noah, and the remainder of the Bulls’ roster in the locker room, began to cheer loudly for Dunleavy. Once Dunleavy left for the podium, Noah explained the importance of Jimmy Butler and why Dunleavy’s 35 points were right on time:
“People don’t realize how difficult it is for him to play the amount of minutes he plays and for him to do what he does … people really have no idea what that feels like, and what he does for our team is priceless. The guy is built different, he’s a black cowboy. I mean I think that’s as unique as it gets. He’s one of those guys you can’t put in a category and I love that.”
“I know he’ll be ready for the next game. But Nene’s a load, and he’s a nightmare to matchup with. He can go left, he can go right, he can shoot, he runs the floor, he’s strong as hell, and every game is really close. So you gotta give credit where credit is due.”
“Mike is a worker, and we wouldn’t be in this position now if it wasn’t for him. Just like we said, our backs were against the wall losing two at home in really close games, and we were really disappointed with the last one having leads in the fourth quarter and losing. But for him to step up the way he did was huge for us, and he deserved to be cheered.”
Speaking of Noah, smart money would be on him if someone mentioned there was a fight in Game 3. Nene torched the Defensive Player of the Year for 24 points and eight rebounds in Game 1, had 17 points and seven rebounds in Game 2, and Noah seemed to be completely flummoxed by Nene’s expansive post repertoire. Even during Game 3, Noah was knocked around by Nene and Gortat, and literally shoved to the floor by Trevor Booker. That frustration, combined with Noah’s passionate play and occasionally fiery temper (who can forget his generous three-referee, F-bomb tirade against the Sacramento Kings in February?), make him a prime fight candidate during this and any playoff series.
Noah was indeed in the middle of the skirmish that broke out between his Jimmy Butler (his teammate) and Nene (his nemesis), but he was the peacemaker, not the instigator. Noah separated Butler and Nene with an incredulous look on his face, as he tried to figure out why this large Brazilian man was attacking his teammate. Said Noah after the game:
“Emotions are riding high. Just got to keep your composure. I’m not the one to talk, I’ve been in those situations, but it definitely was a bonus for us to have him out the game… I think it was the turning point. Nene’s a big part of what they do and him not being on the court was big for us.”
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