CHICAGO -- The words coming loudly out of all corners of the Bulls' locker room late Monday night were unmistakable.
"Kobe stopper! Kobe stopper!"
The words were directed toward one man who wore a sheepish smile on his face -- Jimmy Butler. In just the second start of his career, the Bulls' second-year swingman played almost 44 minutes, scored 10 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and dished out 4 assists. But those weren't even his most important stats of the night.
Butler took the challenge of guarding Kobe Bryant and limited him to just 7-for-22 from the field.
How did he do it?
"It was all about getting into his space," Butler said, before adding the part that endears him to his teammates. "But it wasn't just me defending him, it was four other guys out there. If I was beat, Joakim [Noah] or [Carlos Boozer], somebody was always there. So we defended him as a team, I should say."
Butler, who tried to push away most of the credit he was getting, deserves plenty of praise. He was the one who stood up to Bryant and made him uncomfortable most of the night. Without Luol Deng on the floor, he was the one who set the tone the rest of his teammates followed. Even Bryant had to give him props along with the defensive game plan by Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
"Thibs does a great job," Bryant said. "Every time he faces me he does a great job. Most of the looks I had tonight were tough shots. Some of the credit goes to the young fellow, Butler did a good job defensively. A lot of that is on me and us, having to try to manufacture something 30 feet from the hoop with a low shot clock is tough."
Bryant obviously wasn't the only one praising Butler.
"Jimmy Boy was huge," Noah said. "Defensively it's great for him. He's making a name for himself. He's proving that not only is he a great defensive player, but he's showing his athleticism. He's showing that he hit a huge shot at the end there, a big jump shot, it makes us that much tougher to know that we have guys like that that we can rely on."
That's the difference in Butler's game this season -- he is slowly showing Thibodeau that he can be relied upon night after night.
"Confidence, definitely," Butler said, when asked where he's grown most in his game. "Just knowing that I belong here. Not saying that I ever questioned it before but my teammates let me know constantly so it makes it easier. Making the most of my minutes, I try to do that. It's all about what Thibs sees though."
What Thibodeau is seeing is the development of a key player on his team. What his teammates see in Butler is a guy who is coming into his own. Just don't tell Butler that -- he wants to keep the same hard-working mentality that got him into the league to begin with.
"Don't pay any attention to them," he said of the "Kobe stopper" chants. "It's good. This team, we all love each other so when somebody plays well they make sure they let you know, when somebody plays bad they also make sure they let you know. But I feel like that's what this team is, they're always honest with each other and I think that's why we're so close."