PHILADELPHIA – Thursday was just another reminder of why future “meetings and graduations’’ be damned in the world of Jimmy Butler.
Despite an injured right ankle that kept him from even participating in the morning shootaround, Butler did what elite NBA players are supposed to do, not only gutting it out, but putting on a one-man show in scoring a career-high 53 points to help the Bulls avoid a rock-bottom overtime loss to the 4-37 Philadelphia 76ers, 115-111.
What made his performance even more impressive was the fact that on that bad ankle he still put in 49:03 minutes of work, as well as hitting 21-of-25 from the free throw line in overcoming a 24-point first-half deficit. And oh by the way, 10 rebounds, as well as six assists.
As of late Thursday night, there was no word on if Butler also flew the team charter home.
“We won, and that’s all I’m worried about,’’ Butler said afterwards. “I have some hellafied teammates, man. Kept giving me the ball and telling me to score, stay aggressive, and then to support me on defense, whenever I needed some help. This is a damn-straight team win.’’
Well, not really. Especially since all of the team wasn’t there.
Pau Gasol was left back in Chicago, dealing with a sore shoulder and Achilles, and then there was Derrick Rose.
Rose went through the entire morning shootaround and a pregame workout, but was again “listening’’ to his body, as it continued to remind him that his big-picture outlook trumps the importance of what was deemed a meaningless regular-season game in the City of Brotherly Love.
“Coming into the season, I was just trying to play as many games as possible,’’ Rose, who was dealing with left patellar tendonitis, said of his mindset. “Next year, that’s when I throw in my individual goals and all that, but it’s all about getting a solid season under my belt, playing hard in the playoffs whenever we get there, but along the way just being smart and really taking care of my body, and pushing my teammates to be better.’’
All well and good, but Butler doesn’t need pushing. He’s in fact the pushee.
“I was feeling it,’’ Butler said of playing with the pain in his ankle. “I couldn’t let that stop me to tell you the truth. Just had to keep on going, push through it. Put my feet in some cold water and get ready for this next one [Friday].’’
Butler was asked why not sit out, especially because it was just one of 82 regular-season games, and admitted that he has a bet with his trainer Travelle Gaines in which he will play every regular-season game.
“I put my body through the most in the summer and I max it out in order to do the same during the season,’’ Butler said. “[Gaines] said let’s do it and I said, ‘Alright, bet,’ and I’m on my way.’’
And while Butler became just the fourth Bulls player in team history to score at least 50 points in a game, joining Michael Jordan, Jamal Crawford and Chet Walker, almost lost in the performance was E’Twaun Moore’s seven point in the overtime.
“Everybody sees my 53 points, but that’s not the reason we won,’’ Butler said. “The reason we won, E’Twaun making big buckets late, man.’’