Jimmy Butler’s Absence Especially Hurt Chicago Bulls Against Miami Heat

Jimmy Butler

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bulls were dominated in the second half of Sunday’s loss to the Miami Heat, and it’s doubtful that Jimmy Butler would have been the difference in the game had he played.

But Butler’s absence did not come at a good time for the Bulls. Obviously, the Heat are a good team even without LeBron James (7-1 in last eight games without him) and Chicago would want to have all hands on deck for this game. However, the Heat cause specific matchup problems that are exacerbated when Butler can’t take the court.

The Bulls’ defense is the calling card of the team, but the Heat still poured in 53 points in the second half, including a 19-2 run in the third and fourth quarter that helped put the game out of reach. Butler is the Bulls’ best perimeter defender and would have drawn the assignment of slowing down Dwyane Wade, who scored 23 points on 10-of-22 shooting.

The Bulls spent most of the game with rookie Tony Snell or Kirk Hinrich on Wade. Snell is normally a capable defender, but Wade devours rookies with his array of pump fakes and moves with the ball. As he gets more experienced, Snell may be able to be counted on to guard the D-Wades of the world, but it is too much to ask of him now, especially with no great help defenders (such as Butler) on the floor with him.

Hinrich was pesky as always, but he spent time on Wade when he was paired with D.J. Augustin in the backcourt and Mike Dunleavy playing small forward. This lineup left the Bulls small in the backcourt and susceptible to offensive rebounds. Wade is an excellent rebounding guard, and he killed the Bulls with seven offensive rebounds in the game. The Heat as a team matched the Bulls’ 15 offensive rebounds which can’t happen if the Bulls expect to win. Butler would have done a much better job keeping Wade off the boards, and the Heat wouldn’t have had as many second chance opportunities.

Without Butler, Wade and Mario Chalmers also got into the paint often in the second half. Usually, Joakim Noah is there to patrol the paint, but he had to spend a lot of time (particularly when paired with Carlos Boozer) guarding Chris Bosh, whose range forced Noah into tough decisions all day. Anytime Noah helped in the paint, Bosh would have an open jump shot. He had one of his best games against the Bulls with 28 points, many coming on jumpers. When Boozer was switched to Bosh, the Heat recognized the mismatch and exploited it.

Offensively, the Bulls struggled mightily (as the team often does). The Heat did a great job making the Bulls adjust without Butler by running their three-point shooters off the line. The Bulls didn’t have anyone the Heat were afraid of driving to the basket, so Miami challenged every three point shot. The Bulls as a team shot under 30 percent from behind the line, and the two best shooters on the team as of late (Dunleavy and Augustin) shot a combined 2-for-12 from deep.

The Bulls got production from Noah and Taj Gibson, who combined for 40 points. But the rotation of three guards totaled only 18 points on 20 percent shooting. With no creators on the perimeter, it was even tougher for the Bulls to score than usual.

When the team is struggling offensively, Chicago can sometimes get jump-started by causing some turnovers and getting easy baskets. Butler leads the team in steals, averaging almost two a game. Without Butler, the Bulls scored only three points off turnovers the whole game. A lack of defense leading to offense made it all the more difficult for the lackluster offense.

Hopefully, Butler will be back in the lineup by Wednesday at the latest, as the Golden State Warriors present a lot of similar problems. The Bulls have already lost Derrick Rose and traded Luol Deng; missing their next best perimeter player is not a recipe for success.

Donnie Kolakowski is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on twitter @zenoknows.

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