(MCT) — CHICAGO — To Jimmy Butler, it’s simple.
Whether he’s averaging 45.2 minutes in the five games he started for Luol Deng or playing 31 minutes, 14 seconds in reserve of Deng and others, as he did during Monday’s 93-85 victory over the Bobcats, his role remains the same.
“Rebound, guard and make some open shots,” Butler said. “When the opportunity presents itself, you have to take it. Starting gave me a lot more confidence. But I’m still able to do those things (off the bench).”
Deng returned after missing five games with an injured right hamstring and finished with 12 points in 31.02 minutes as the Bulls avenged their New Year’s Eve home debacle to the Bobcats. Butler backed up his promise with a career-high 19 points and six rebounds, playing at shooting guard alongside Deng for a long second-quarter stretch and most of the final 5:28.
“Jimmy’s a big part of the team,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Lu has been huge for us. We know we have flexibility. You do what’s best for the team.”
At least against the speedy, perimeter-driven Bobcats, minutes dropped for Marco Belinelli and Richard Hamilton. Thibodeau even used the combination of Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson for a brief third-quarter stretch.
“They went real small,” Thibodeau said. “I liked (Butler’s) quickness out there defensively. I thought we had to match up with their quickness. I wanted quick feet out there. I thought that was the best matchup for this game.”
The Bulls pulled away late in the third after the Bobcats tied it at 55-55 with 3:36 remaining. Joakim Noah, huge again with a double-double in 44.52 minutes, scored on a three-point play. Robinson, also large with 15 points off the bench, kick-started a 13-0 run with a 3-pointer as the Bobcats failed to score for 4:24.
With 13 points and 18 rebounds, Noah became the first Bull to grab 15 or more rebounds in four straight games since Dennis Rodman in March 1998.
“Noah’s protecting the rim, playing defense, rebounding, blocking shots, making plays, passing,” Thibodeau said. “Terrific all-around game for him.”
Robinson poured it on in the fourth, scoring eight points as the Bulls pushed their lead to 14. But old friend Ben Gordon found his range in the final period as well, scoring 10 of his 18 points as the Bobcats hung around within six points late.
That’s when Carlos Boozer powered home a left-handed dunk over Bismack Biyombo off a feed from Robinson with 1:24 left to jazz the sellout crowd of 21,308.
As for Deng’s return, Thibodeau said: “I thought he moved very well for his first game back, trying to get his timing back. First game back, I wanted to see where he was. I didn’t want to overextend his minutes. The matchups weren’t great for him.
“His length and knowing how to play guys is a huge factor for us. There may not be a better defender in the league right now.”