Jimmy Butler dominates by getting to the line in win over Raptors

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CHICAGO — Jimmy Butler has become so confident in his abilities that he can dominate the game even when he’s not shooting well. That was the case again on Tuesday night, as Butler went 15-for-19 from the free throw line, scoring 19 points and dishing out 12 assists in the Chicago Bulls105-94 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Butler, who missed four of the past five games because of right heel pain, continues to show that biggest area of improvement in his game is the ability to get to the line any time he wants.

“When you’re shooting 2-for-10 from the field I think you better find a way to get to the free throw line,” he said after the game. “But you know, other than that, everybody has a different way of changing the game. Whether you’re guarding, rebounding, passing, getting loose balls, taking charges, getting to the free throw line is the only way to win.”

Tuesday’s performance marked the eighth time this season Butler has attempted at least 15 free throws in a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information reseach. Butler ranks behind only Michael Jordan in accomplishing that feat most often during a season in Bulls history. His 12 assists also tied a career high.

“There’s multiple ways to help win games,” Butler said. “I’m hopefully not the best scorer, probably not the best passer either, but when you do a combination of all things that’s basketball for you. I think these guys trust me with the ball in my hands. … This ballclub had a lot of confidence in me to change the game in more ways than just going 10-for-10 from the field.”

Butler’s confidence, which has been praised by teammates and coaches all season, is what shines through on a night like this. His heel is still bothering him, he wasn’t knocking down shots, but he kept finding ways to impact the game.

Despite how many times the Bulls tried to brush off the fact they have now knocked off the Raptors 11 times in a row, the players understand that they have a huge mental edge on a Toronto group that has no answers for the up-and-down Bulls. Butler gives this team a mental edge when he’s on the floor and does that because he believes in his abilities at the highest level. The 27-year-old is buoyed by the belief that his game can lift his team even when he’s not playing the way he wants.

“I thought Jimmy looked good in talking to him as he came over,” Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I asked him how he was feeling and he said, ‘I feel great,’ so he kept going in there. I’m sure he’s going to be sore [Wednesday], but he’s got a week off coming up after Thursday.”

That isn’t entirely accurate given that Butler is expected to start for the Eastern Conference squad in Sunday’s All-Star Game in New Orleans. Butler, who is proud of the fact he was voted as a starter by players, fans and media, shrugged off the suggestion he would skip the game because of the injury. The Bulls have to hope they bring the same intensity they did against the Raptors to a tough matchup against the Boston Celtics on Thursday, the final game before the All-Star break.

“As bad as you guys may write stories about what it is, we’re still in seventh [in the East],” Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo said. “And there are a lot of home games left.”

The Bulls have proven they can beat good teams and lose to bad ones, but any hope of making the playoffs rest solely on the health of Butler and his right heel. The Bulls were without Dwyane Wade (wrist), Paul Zipser (ankle) and Nikola Mirotic (back) on Tuesday and might be without all three until after the break, but it’s Butler who makes this team go and it’s Butler who must stay healthy in order for the group to make a final push down the stretch.

“There wasn’t that much pain at all,” Butler said. “Now it’s all about just about getting a rhythm, getting back in shape. So hopefully we get to go up and down a little bit [Wednesday].”

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