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The Butler did it: Bulls blow 21-point lead, still beat Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS — Before the shootaround Monday, coach Tom Thibodeau sounded like someone who had high hopes the organization would do whatever it takes to keep Jimmy Butler in a Bulls uniform for years to come.

After the Bulls’ 92-90 victory against the Indiana Pacers, Thibodeau might want to start paying Butler out of his own pocket.

Thanks to Butler’s 27 points and nine rebounds, as well as a clutch three-pointer with 1:07 left, the Bulls survived a fourth-quarter meltdown to win their seventh consecutive game and improve to 22-9.

‘‘I think all of us who have been around him know who Jimmy is,’’ Thibodeau said earlier in the day. ‘‘We all value who Jimmy is. Those are business decisions that he and his agent have to make. Our organization feels very strongly about him, and we want him here for a long time. That will all take care of itself in the end.’’

Butler turned down a take-it-or-leave-it offer from the Bulls at the start of the regular season, so he will become a restricted free agent in July. But the game against the Pacers was only further proof of his rise to stardom.

‘‘It’s for real,’’ teammate Derrick Rose said. ‘‘I think he’s a star now. A lot of people can say what they want to say, but he’s got the right attitude for it coming in. He was always different; he was always Jimmy. We’re loving it right now because he’s just making the game easy for everyone else.’’

Against the Pacers, he made it much easier for Rose, who scored 17 points but was only 5-for-20 from the field, including 1-for-7 from three-point range.

Rose wasn’t alone in his misses, though. The Bulls watched a 21-point lead late in the third quarter turn into a three-point deficit with 2:35 left. Missing 17 consecutive shots and allowing the Pacers to score 20 points in a row will do that.

But Butler made two free throws with 2:29 left, then made the clutch three to put the Bulls on top.

‘‘I’m confident in my game and so are my teammates, so I feel like I’ve got to step up and take and make shots late,’’ Butler said of his heroics. ‘‘I guess that’s what a starting two-guard is supposed to do.

‘‘I saw Pau [Gasol] made a great pass. But that’s what he does. That’s just confidence that my big men have in me, though.’’

Just in case there were some questions about Butler’s all-around play, he drew an offensive foul on the Pacers’ Chris Copeland on the possession after his big three.

The Pacers had a last-second opportunity to win, but former Bulls guard C.J. Watson missed an open three at the horn.

‘‘It’s a good feeling,’’ Rose said of the offensive talent around him. ‘‘It’s the first time I’ve ever had that feeling while I’ve been in the league, and it takes a lot of pressure off of everyone. Someone can easily go off for 15 or 20 points in a couple of quarters and pull us away, put the other team away pretty quick.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @suntimes_hoops