Clutch Butler has become elite finisher for Bulls this season

SHARE Clutch Butler has become elite finisher for Bulls this season
SHARE Clutch Butler has become elite finisher for Bulls this season

The fourth quarter is the measuring stick.

The heavyweights are on the floor; the lightweights have ringside seats.

It’s NBA Darwinism at its finest.

But the last four minutes of an NBA game are a look into the soul.

“Those last four minutes is where you really put your mark on the game,’’ Bulls guard Dwyane Wade said. “I know coming up, that’s what I tried to do, and that’s where he’s at right now.’’

Wade was referring to Jimmy Butler, who’s trying to become an elite closer, the guy who carries the weight of winning or losing.

It’s a pass/fail test that allows a franchise to build around you or simply make the decision to rebuild over you.

Butler not only accepts that pressure, but he’s delivering for the Bulls.

“I think he’s had enough game this year and done it where he has to be considered an elite closer,’’ Wade said. “In today’s game, obviously you look at a guy like [Celtics guard] Isaiah Thomas in the fourth quarter overall, and he’s the top. But when you look at those guys that do it in the last couple of minutes, Jimmy is right there.’’

Entering Wednesday night, Thomas was averaging a league-best 10.1 points in the fourth quarter, hitting 49.5 percent from the field. Butler was tied for sixth, averaging 7.2 points in the fourth and shooting 44 percent.

Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry, DeMarcus Cousins and Kawhi Leonard were the others ahead of Butler.

“Go to what you know and don’t force anything,’’ Butler said. “Take the right shots and be confident.

“I work on it enough where I know what to do if a team tries to take something away. But if you bring two players to me, I’m going to hit the open guy. That’s what the game is telling you to do.’’

Is the art of closing in a player’s DNA or can it be learned?

“I think there’s both,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Jimmy, obviously where he came into this league, is a guy that learned from some great pros. Now he’s gotten to the point where he’s one of the best in the game, one of the best two-way players. You can also put him up there as one of the top closers with what he’s done this year and how he’s added that to his game.

“I would say that more often than not it’s an innate quality.’’

It was for Wade, who said he was born with it. That makes Butler’s growth even more impressive. The quality likely always was there, but he had to cultivate it.

“He’s learned it,’’ Wade said. “His toughness, his mentality is there, but being in those situations — making those shots, missing those shots, whatever it may be — that’s the thing he’s learning.’’

Then Wade paused and smiled.

“And I’ll tell you what,’’ he said, “he’s a hell of a quick learner.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com


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