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Jimmy Butler’s game-winner may have saved the Bulls season

INDIANAPOLIS – Jimmy Butler said that he would have passed the basketball if he wasn’t open.

He couldn’t say it with a straight face.

“Obviously the option was for me to shoot the ball,’’ Butler said of his late-game heroics. “If I wasn’t open I was going to pass it. Great screen by Niko [Mirotic], great play-call by coach, decent shot on my behalf.’’

Decent?

How about season saving? Or at least what was left in the season to save.

But there was Butler with 3.7 seconds left and the game with Indiana tied, hitting a 10-footer to put the Bulls up 98-96 at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse. A score that would stick when the Pacers’ C.J. Miles missed a prayer at the horn.

“We tried to have Niko come up and slip out on the screen,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said of the game-winner. “We tried to confuse them and slip him out, and then Jimmy was going to make the read on it. [Both defenders] kind of stayed in no-man’s land there, and Jimmy rose up and knocked down the big shot.’’

A shot that not only ended a four-game losing streak for the Bulls (37-37), but again kept them on life support for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

By beating Indiana, combined with Detroit beating Oklahoma City, the Pistons moved into the No. 7 spot, while the Pacers dropped to the eighth and final spot, just two games up on the Bulls with eight games left to play.

“We knew we had to win this one,’’ Hoiberg said. “We knew that if we didn’t win [Tuesday] it was going to be an uphill battle. It would have been a mountain to climb if we didn’t get this one. The guys stepped up big and defended well.’’

More like well enough.

There was a six-minute dry spell in the fourth quarter where the Bulls offense completely vanished and didn’t score a field goal. Good thing for them Indiana was just as bad. The Bulls finished that final quarter 6-for-23 (26.1 percent) only to be outdone by Indiana’s dreadful 5-for-22 (22.7 percent).

Someone, however, had to win.

“Really important especially because right now we knew we had nine games left, every game was really important, and we came and played with a different mentality after we had a meeting a couple days ago,’’ Mirotic said. “Even when we lost our last game against Atlanta we played better, we competed. We did a helluva job on defense, and that’s the way we should play the rest of the regular season.’’

But can they? That’s the major problem with this team.

“I don’t know,’’ Butler said. “We have to figure it out though. I’m not going to sit here and talk about it any longer because I have been this entire year, with all due respect. I just think we have to continue to win games. I don’t care how we do it. I don’t care if we give up 150 points as long as we score 151. I’m fine with it.’’

There was some collateral damage in the win, with Taj Gibson leaving the game with a rib contusion, and Derrick Rose bothered by a sore left elbow.

With so much on the line the next few weeks, however, injuries will have to wait.

“Just trying to give the team all I had,’’ Rose said of his shaky 4-for-15 shooting night. “Even though I couldn’t go left, I’m basically a left handed driver. Just tried to give team whatever I had.’’