Tireless Butler provides stellar service as Bulls stun Heat
A depleted Chicago Bulls dug deep for another impressive display of character and collective strength as they stunned defending NBA champions Miami Heat 93-86 in the opening game of their Eastern Conference semi-final series.
On the night when LeBron James was presented with his fourth Most Valuable Player award from league commissioner David Stern, it was instead the more modest but seemingly tireless talent of Chicago's Jimmy Butler which proved decisive.
Butler played all 48 minutes for the third straight game and scored 21 points, while grabbing 14 rebounds and three assists.
On top of that, in the absence of the ailing Luol Deng, Butler guarded James, restricting him to just two points in the first half, a post-season career low for the Miami forward.
Although James stepped it up after the break, finishing with 24 points on 8-of-17 shooting, Butler inspired the Bulls to a fourth quarter rally as they roared back from a seven-point deficit to grab the early advantage in the best-of-seven series.
"I like the mental toughness of this team," said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who was also unable to call on the services of injured Kirk Henrich and long-term absentee Derrick Rose.
"When you are facing adversity, you have to be mentally tough. But this is just one game. We are going to have to play much better in the next one," he added.
Butler, who came into the contest after playing every minute in Game Six and Saturday's Game Seven series decider against the Brooklyn Nets, epitomized that spirit.
"He is a tough kid," Thibodeau said. "He is mentally tough and that is what we need him to do right now. We're short-handed. We have a number of guys playing big minutes and that is what we need."