CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler embodies all the characteristics Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau wants his players to have. He's tough, he plays hard, he plays to win, he never gives up, but most important he's not scared. Butler isn't afraid to mix it up or get down and dirty on the floor. Never was that more evident than at times during the Chicago Bulls' impressive 95-88 overtime win on Sunday afternoon.
It was Butler who found himself in a scrum with LeBron James under the basket in the first half and didn't back down -- kicking him in the face and taking a shot to the mouth -- as both players picked up technical fouls.
It was Butler who made arguably the play of the day in the final seconds of regulation when he stripped James cleanly and forced the game into overtime. It was Butler, who in the midst of describing his attitude against James, ended up describing his entire team's mindset in the process.
"I don't back down," he said proudly. "Let's just put it like that."
That line of thinking is why the Bulls continue to surprise many around the league, but it's also what sets the third-year Marquette alum apart from many of his peers. Even when he's having a bad day offensively, he has learned that he can still make a difference in the game. He proved that again Sunday by locking up James to the tune of just 2-for-11 shooting when the players were matched up with one another, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.
"I'm pretty happy with the way he guarded [James]," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Jimmy was a warrior tonight. He's one of those guys, too, when things aren't going his way he can do so many things on the basketball court to affect winning. And you need guys like that."
The key for Butler is that he has taken that advice -- from teammates and coaches -- to heart. He was only 4-for-15 from the field, but his defense on James, and at times on Dwyane Wade, was one of the biggest reasons why the Bulls were able come back and win.
"Effort," Butler said. "I feel like that's what a lot of defense is. Just the want to and the will to fight through a screen. Just to try to never give up on a play, I feel like that's what I did."
The thing that Thibodeau really loves about Butler is he's not afraid of the challenge. He trusts himself on the defensive end, and is gaining more trust on the offensive end. He enjoys facing the best players on the other team and he continues to play with a chip on his shoulder and feeds off when people doubt him.
"Jimmy is a fierce, fierce player," Thibodeau said. "He has great feet, strength, intelligence. But the best thing about Jimmy is his demeanor. He will do it over and over and over again, and he doesn't complain about playing the big minutes. Everything that Jo does, Jimmy also does. He is a great competitor, and we need that all the time."
Butler and his teammates understand that if they want to ultimately win a title, they're going to have to find a way to beat Miami in the postseason, but for now they want to enjoy wins like this one. Butler wants to guard James and Wade because he wants to get to their level some day.
"That's what I asked for since my rookie year," he said of the heavy minutes guarding Miami's dynamic duo. "So I can't go back and say, 'Thibs, no, I don't want to play. I don't want to guard the best players.' So I'm here."