Jimmy Butler’s Career Night Leads Bulls Over Sixers in OT

Jimmy Butler scored a career high 53 points in Chicago's overtime win over the Sixers.

Jimmy Butler drives down the lane for two of his career-high 53 points in Thursday night's 115-111 win over Philadelphia | John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Butler drives down the lane for two of his career-high 53 points in Thursday night’s 115-111 win over Philadelphia. | John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

For the first 24 minutes of Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Chicago Bulls played like a team competing in their fourth game in six nights.

The Sixers built up a 34-22 lead at the end of the first quarter thanks in large part to sloppy play by the tired Bulls, who committed seven turnovers in the quarter, compared to just one by the Sixers.

The Sixers took advantage of that sloppy play with excellent execution on the offensive end, shooting 63.6 percent from the field and 80 percent from three-point range during the first quarter of play, which was one of their best of the season.

The Sixers then used a 16-4 run, highlighted by eight points from rookie Jahlil Okafor, to start the second quarter, building up a 24-point lead midway through the second quarter that seemed insurmountable, especially considering how sluggish the Bulls looked up to that point.

But the Bulls slowly, steadily chipped away at the lead, beginning with a 10-4 run over the final 2:32 of the first half to cut the lead to 16 at the break.

The Bulls, kept alive by superstar Jimmy Butler‘s historic night, outscored the Sixers by 14 in the third quarter to pull to within two points at the start of the 4th.

The Sixers seemed to stem the tide, using an 8-0 run to start the 4th to give them a double-digit cushion once again, but Chicago wouldn’t go away. The Bulls once again steadily chipped away, finally going up 98-97 — their first lead since the first quarter — with 2:24 remaining.

The Bulls were led by Butler, who shattered his career high by scoring 53 points against the Sixers, which was also the highest total for a visitor in Wells Fargo Center history. Butler’s previous career high was 43, which he set last month against Detroit. He also had a 42-point game earlier this month against Toronto.

Butler finished the night with 53 points on 15-30 shooting from the field, which included 2-4 from the three-point line and an incredible 21-25 from the free-throw line. He also added 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals on the night. He scored in every way imaginable: in transition, driving to the hoop, from three, and pulling up off the dribble.

Butler’s 53 points matched Stephen Curry for the most this season, and his 21 made free throws was the most made by a player during the 2015-16 campaign.

DefenderFG% against
JaKarr Sampson55.6% (5-9)
Robert Covington42.9% (3-7)
Nik Stauskas40% (2-5)
Hollis Thompson40% (2-5)
Ish Smith100% (2-2)
Carl Landry100% (1-1)
Nerlens Noel0% (0-1)
(The Sixers threw a lot of different players at the Bulls Jimmy Butler, who scored a career-high 53 points. Here's how each fared as an individual defender. Note: Landry and Noel each ended up on Butler after switches, and both of the field goals Ish Smith defended came in transition)

The Sixers had been switching on pick-and-rolls the majority of the night, something the Bulls used to their advantage, as they frequently put Butler in a pick and roll situation with the other wing player to let Butler attack their preferred matchup. Down the stretch Sixers head coach Brett Brown was forced to alter that strategy.

The Sixers were successful in being able to force the ball out of Butler’s hands to start overtime, but the end result was that E’Twaun Moore scored the first 7 points of the overtime period.

“At the end of the game we have an ‘anybody but’ rule,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown explained after the game. “Butler was doing his thing, but I really felt like we could persevere with him [having success], and we made the adjustment and [E’Twaun] Moore came out and punished that too.”

Moore, who is averaging 4.7 points on the season, had scored just 7 points during regulation.

Ish Smith made a huge three-pointer with 17 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 104, and the Sixers were able to force a turnover and send the game to overtime by doubling Jimmy Butler as soon as he crossed half court.

After withstanding Moore’s explosion to start overtime the Sixers clawed back and found themselves within 2 points after Ish Smith hit his second huge three-pointer of the game with 1:04 remaining in overtime. Smith had a chance to tie the game on the next possession, but missed a contested layup with 25 seconds left.

Smith kept the Sixers’ hopes alive late in the game, scoring 12 of the Sixers’ 16 points during the final 12 minutes of play and going toe to toe with Butler in one of the more memorable individual duels of the season.

The Sixers’ chances took a hit when Robert Covington fouled out with 2:24 remaining in regulation. That, combined with Nik Stauskas leaving the game after suffering a left shoulder contusion late in the fourth quarter, sapped the Sixers of much of their perimeter shooting. Stauskas is doubtful for tomorrow night’s game against Portland.

Outside of Butler’s career night, the Sixers were also killed on the glass, as the Bulls collected 42.5 percent of their offensive rebounding opportunities. On the game the Bulls had nearly as many offensive rebounds (17) as the Sixers had defensive rebounds (23).

Taj Gibson (7) and Joakim Noah (5) were all major factors on the offensive glass for the Bulls.

The Sixers’ 57.5 percent defensive rebounding rate was their worst output of the season, and it was the 7th worst defensive rebounding performance in the NBA this season.

PlayerDefensive ReboundsDefensive Rebound "Chances"% Of Chances Recovered
Nerlens Noel3837.5%
Robert Covington2825.0%
Jahlil Okafor3742.9%
Carl Landry3560.0%
(The Sixers big men allowed 17 offensive rebounds to the Chicago Bulls in their 115-111 overtime loss on Thursday, January 14th, 2016. Chances defined as instances when a player is within 3.5 feet of the rebound. Data courtesy nba.com/stats)

Butler was joined by strong performances from Doug McDermott (17 points on 7-12 shooting, including 14 second-half points), E’Twaun Moore (14 points, 7 of which came in overtime), Taj Gibson (11 points and 11 rebounds), and Joakim Noah (6 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists in just his second start of the season, as Pau Gasol did not play due to shoulder and Achilles injuries).

Despite Jimmy Butler’s career night and the Sixers’ defensive rebounding struggles, there were plenty of positives to take away from this game for the improving Sixers.

The Sixers shot 44.4 percent from three-point range, making 12 of their 27 attempts on the night. That effort was led by Robert Covington, who scored a team-high 25 points on 8-16 shooting from the field, including 6-10 from three-point range. Covington had reached double figures in scoring just once in his previous fourteen games.

The game also saw Nik Stauskas go 3-5 from three-point range for his 12 points. Stauskas is shooting 48.4 percent from three-point range during the month of January, an encouraging sign.

The Sixers also turned the ball over on just 10.7 percent of their offensive possessions, one of their better performances at taking care of the ball this season. Overall the Sixers are turning the ball over on just 16.5 percent of their possessions over the last 10 games, a drastic reduction from the 18.8 percent they suffered through before acquiring Ish Smith.

Smith, who had 8 assists to just 2 turnovers to go along with his 24 points (10-25 shooting) has obviously been a big part of that turnaround.

While the Sixers began the Ish Smith era by going 3-3 over their first 6 games, the last three games have been just as impressive, despite the Sixers coming up empty in the win column. The Sixers were competitive against the Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Chicago Bulls, three of the best teams the Eastern Conference has to offer.

“How could we not leave that game feeling like the team is heading in the right direction?” Head coach Brett Brown asked after the game. “I think they played their hearts out.”

The Sixers will finish out this six game home stand Saturday night against the 17-24 Portland Trailblazers.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine’s Sixers Post. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.