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Jimmy Butler's late surge helps Chicago Bulls edge Atlanta Hawks

By
Jeff Arnold, The Sports Xchange
Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) drives through the lane for the easy layup. File photo by Jon SooHoo/UPI
Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) drives through the lane for the easy layup. File photo by Jon SooHoo/UPI | License Photo

CHICAGO -- At one point of the fourth quarter, Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg asked Jimmy Butler if he was tired and needed a breather.

Without hesitation, Butler indicated he wasn't and told Hoiberg he wanted to be the reason Chicago won its third straight game.

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As it turns out, he was.

Butler capped his 33-point performance by making two free throws with 2.1 seconds remaining as the Bulls edged the Atlanta Hawks 106-104 on Saturday at the United Center.

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Butler poured in 25 points in the second half and scored Chicago's final nine points of the contest as the Bulls erased a nine-point deficit in the game's final five minutes.

With the win, Chicago moved into the seventh playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and into a virtual three-way tie with the idle Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers.

"Nobody picked us to be in the playoffs, nobody picked us to win," Butler said. "I'm just out there playing basketball. I want to win -- I think everybody knows that."

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Rajon Rondo had 25 points and 11 rebounds, Denzel Valentine added 13 and Paul Zipser had 10 for the Bulls (37-39).

But it was Butler who made the difference when it mattered most.

"He was phenomenal," Hoiberg said. "Jimmy did everything again. He just found a way to get to the basket ... obviously, he was a huge part of that win."

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Dennis Schroder scored 29 points for the Hawks (39-37), who nearly pulled out the victory when Tim Hardaway, Jr. -- who scored 20 points -- narrowly missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Dwight Howard and Ersan Ilyasova each scored 13 points for Atlanta, which had its two-game win streak snapped.

After watching their double-digit lead evaporate, Schroder drilled a midrange jumper to give the Hawks a 104-102 lead with 35.8 seconds only to have Butler answer on Chicago's ensuing possession. Butler's 3-point field goal with 1:59 remaining tied the game at 102.

"(The Bulls) responded to us well and you have to give them credit," Schroder said. "We need to execute better in crunch time."

Hawks coach Mike Budenzholzer agreed.

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"We didn't make enough plays down the stretch that we had to," he said.

Behind Butler, the Bulls made their surge. Chicago got stops on one end of the floor and then translated it into offense before Butler took over down the stretch.

"When it counted, we got stops," Butler said.

Rondo continues to play a key role for the Bulls, who will be without starting guard Dwyane Wade for the remainder of the regular season with an elbow injury. Rondo, along with Butler, kept the Bulls poised as they overcame Atlanta to keep their postseason chances alive with six games remaining in the regular season.

"We knew this game was the biggest game of the season," Rondo said. "We had a great win (against Cleveland on Thursday), but it means nothing if we came out and laid an egg tonight."

With a four-game road trip starting Sunday in New Orleans and understanding they need every win they can to play their way into the postseason, the Bulls chipped away until Butler's late free throws proved to be the difference.

"It's an important step when you can fight through adversity and find a way to come back from a big deficit like that," Hoiberg said. "It's a couple of times in a row when we've fought back. We haven't put our heads down and we continue to compete -- that's what it's all about."

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NOTES: Hawks F Paul Millsap (left knee swelling) responded well to practicing well on Friday and continues to make positive progress. Coach Mike Budenholzer said Millsap went through individual work on Saturday and could be ready to return soon. "Each day, you just make sure they're reacting and recovering in a good way," Budenholzer said. ... G/F Thabo Sefolosha (right groin strain) missed his fourth straight game. ... G/F Mike Dunleavy returned after missing a game with an ankle injury. .... Bulls F Cristiano Felicio was available for the second straight game but was still experiencing some soreness in recent days. Felicio hasn't played since March 21. ... Former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as part of the 2017 class, the club announced Saturday. Krause, who served as GM between 1985-2003, died March 21 at the age of 77. ... G Cameron Payne was inactive.

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