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Butler triple-double not enough as Bulls lose to Pistons 94-90

Bulls guard E'Twaun Moore (55) battles Reggie Jackson for the ball in the first half Saturday night at the United Center. (Paul Beaty/AP)

Jimmy Butler seems to reach a different level — as a player, facilitator and leader — when Derrick Rose it out. But on a night when Butler wasn’t getting much help, his will could only carry the Bulls so far.

Butler’s first career triple-double — 28 points, a career-high 17 rebounds and a career-high 12 assists — gave the Bulls a chance to win a crucial game. But he was unable to get the benefit of the doubt on a critical  block/charge call in the final 20 seconds and the Bulls fell short in a 94-90 loss Saturday night before 22,197 at the United Center.

“It’s just tough,” said Butler, who shot 10-of-25 from the field and 1-of-7 on three-point shots. “I feel like I could have done more — made more shots; played better defense. There’s always room for improvement. All I wanted to do is win — triple-double or no triple-double.

The loss dropped the Bulls (38-38), who played without Rose (sore elbow) and Taj Gibson (fractured ribs), two games behind the Indiana Pacers (40-36) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with six games remaining in the regular season.

“It’s tough to swallow,” said disconsolate Butler, who also had three steals, two blocked shots and three turnovers. “We need to win as many games as possible and we didn’t get this one. We let this one slip away.”

After a tough start to the fourth quarter, Butler nearly ignited a fabulous comeback after the Bulls fell behind 90-83 with 40 seconds left. Butler hit a three-point shot and two free throws after a Pistons turnover in the backcourt to cut the Pistons’ lead to 90-88 with 38 seconds left.

On the ensuing possession, Butler appeared to have established position and taken a charge on a drive by Pistons guard Reggie Jackson. But officials ruled his feet were in the restricted area and Butler was called for a block.  Jackson hit two free throws to give the Pistons (41-36) a 92-88 lead with 20 seconds left.

“They [the officials] said Jimmy’s heels were above the line, I guess,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It was not enough evidence to overturn the call.”

“I don’t know,” Butler said. “[They officials said] it wasn’t a charge. It was a block. Not too much you can say about it.”

Butler took a knee to the ribs on the play and took a while to get up. Hoiberg said the Bulls will no more about his condition Sunday — when the Bulls play the Bucks at the Bradley Center. But Butler did not seem concerned. “I’ll be all right,” he said.

With Rose and Gibson out, the culprit on this night was most of Butler’s supporting cast. Pau Gasol added 16 points on 7-of-19 shooting and Aaron Brooks scored 14 points off the bench. But Nikola Mirotic, coming off back-to-back 28-point games, scored six points on 2-of-7 shooting (2-of-4 on three-pointers). Mike Dunleavy scored two points on 1-of-3 shooting. Doug McDermott scored four points on 1-of-5 shooting in 15 minutes. E’Twaun Moore scored eight points on 3-of-10 shooting and had one assist. All five Pistons starters scored in double figures, led by Jackson (22 points) and Tobias Harris (21 points).

“When we don’t move the ball it’s going to be tough offensively to score a lot of points,” Dunleavy said. “I thought it stuck a lot tonight and made it difficult for us to put up a big number of points.”

This was the wrong night  — “a game that’s probably as important as any all year,” Hoiberg said — for that to happen.

“But it’s kind of how we’ve been all year,” Dunleavy said. “Really our offensive has probably let us down more than our defense. When we needed to get the job done defensively, I’m pretty confident. Offensively, we’re just not there yet. It’s not a surprise. It is what it is. You’ve got to roll with it.”

It was a disappointment for the Bulls — who had won back-to-back road games against the Pacers and Rockets after a four-game losing streak to stay in contention — but typical of their herky-jerky season. They started slowly and finished strong against the Rockets on Thursday. This time they started quickly (up 20-14 in the first seven minutes) but faded in the fourth quarter.

The Bulls missed 15 of their first 20 shots in the quarter. Trailing 82-81 with 4:22 left, they had three chances to take the lead and failed each time — Gasol shot an air ball from long range, Dunleavy missed a 22-footer and Butler missed a three-pointer. Down 86-83 with 1:45 left, Moore and Butler missed three-point shots that would have tied the game.

“We missed a couple that hit every part of the rim and unfortunately bounced out,” Hoiberg said. “Missed a couple of threes like that; a couple inside like that. It happens. Some night’s it’s like that. Unfortunately in a game that’s probably as important as any all year — not a good night for that to take place.”