Bulls hit by reality as the season ends, and his name was Jimmy Butler

Despite keeping Butler under wraps through the first three quarters in Friday’s play-in elimination game, the visiting team watched the former Bull come back to haunt them, with Butler scoring 13 fourth-quarter points.

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Jimmy Butler

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) shoots over Chicago Bulls guard Coby White (0) during the first half of an NBA basketball play-in tournament game, Friday, April 14, 2023, in Miami.

Rebecca Blackwell/AP

MIAMI — DeMar DeRozan was fresh out of the shower, sitting at his locker, knowing there was nowhere else to go, no more games to play this season.

“This one hurt,” he said after a 102-91 loss to the Heat on Friday night in a play-in tournament elimination game in which the Bulls were outscored 15-1 in the final 3:47. “I’m not even going to lie. A [crappy] feeling right now. It sucks. It shouldn’t have ended like that. We gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game. We were up. We can’t make the mistakes we made in a game like this.

“Now we’re sitting in our reality with nothing to do.”

A big part of that reality was Heat guard Jimmy Butler, who’s still haunting the Bulls six years after they gave up on him in favor of a rebuild. Butler scored 31 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter, and former DePaul star Max Strus matched it with 31 of his own as the Heat ended the Bulls’ playoff hopes.

Bulls guard Zach LaVine — the centerpiece of the package for Butler in the 2017 draft-night trade and the hero in the second half of Wednesday’s victory in Toronto, was terrible Friday, going 6-for-21 with 15 points, including 0-for-6 from three-point rage. He also had five turnovers.

LaVine knew he couldn’t hide from such a performance.

“Just didn’t shoot the ball well,” he said. “A lot of good shots I feel normally go in, and it sucks knowing we were so close. If I make a couple of those, it could be the tipping point, so it hurts a lot.

“You don’t want to go home. It’s a realization that you’re not going to continue to play. It has to hurt, and if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not in the right business.”

It was business for Butler, especially late. After DeRozan converted two three-point plays to put the Bulls up by six with 8:27 left, Butler answered with back-to-back layups to cut the deficit to two.

It looked like the Bulls would withstand the rally when guard Coby White hit a big-time three. But Butler put the Heat back in front by one with a layup with 2:17 left. The Heat’s lead increased to three with 1:41 left after two free throws from Bam Adebayo, but DeRozan again drew a foul and cut the lead to two when he split the pair.

Then it was time for Strus, another former Bull, to haunt them. The Bulls had seemingly gotten him under control after his sizzling performance from three-point range in the first half, but he woke up again with 1:14 left to hit his first three of the second half and seventh of the game.

LaVine missed again. Strus was fouled on a three-point attempt, and after a failed challenge of the play by Bulls coach Billy Donovan, the game was effectively on ice. So was the Bulls’ season.

“You’ve got to understand a well-coached team, talented players and a player like Jimmy,” DeRozan said. “Understand the time of the game, and it comes with who can make the big plays, who gets the stops. We just couldn’t do it in the final minutes of the game.

“[Strus] shot the hell out of the ball. We did a pretty good job on everyone else. Jimmy is going to be Jimmy.”

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