WASHINGTON -- Joakim Noah is wired differently.
The Chicago Bulls' emotional center marches to the beat of his own drummer and is confident in his own skin. So it's noteworthy when Noah -- who is viewed by fans and peers alike as an original -- sees a kindred spirit in terms of how a person carries himself.
That person is Jimmy Butler.
Even Noah thinks Butler is a little different, but it's those differences that help Noah understand how the young swingman can continue to play so many minutes and still make big plays -- as he did down the stretch in a 100-97 Game 3 victory Friday night over the Washington Wizards, when he knocked down the biggest bucket of the year with 24.9 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"The guy is built different," Noah said of Butler. "He's a black cowboy. I think that's as unique as it gets. He's one of those guys you can't put him in a category, and I love that because when a guy who plays that hard and really represents what our team is all about, for him to make the biggest shot of the game in the biggest moment of our season. I couldn't be happier that it's him."
That was the feeling throughout the happy Bulls locker room. Butler's teammates know hard the 24-year-old Butler works, and they were happy to see him step up in the biggest of moments. After struggling to find a rhythm and wearing out down the stretch in Game 2, Butler was just happy to be able to contribute to the win.
"Short-term memory loss," he said of his mindset. "It's a new day, a new game, new possessions. My team needs me to step up and take the open shot when it's there. And definitely knock it down when needed."
The key for Butler was that he finally got a bit of a breather in this one. After Butler played a combined 97 minutes over the first two games of the series, and admitted after Friday's shootaround that he was a little fatigued, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau gave his ironman a relative break by playing him only 41 minutes. It was something Butler said might have made the difference.
"[The break] might have had a little bit to do with it, to tell you the truth," Butler said.
What made Butler's late-game heroics even more impressive is that he did it after getting into a scuffle with Wizards big man Nene midway through the fourth quarter. The pair exchanged words and went forehead to forehead before Nene grabbed Butler by the head. It was a turning point, as Nene was ejected and Butler responded by going back down the floor and knocking down a 3-pointer. It was one of several much-needed baskets Butler delivered.
His performance, combined with Mike Dunleavy's 35-point explosion, was the biggest reason why the Bulls were able to climb back into the series. Instead of finding ways to lose this game, as they had the previous two, Butler helped the Bulls win.
"Man, we've been blowing good leads," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "They've been playing good defense, but we've just been blowing a lot of good leads. People want to talk about our scoring in the fourth, but it's our defense, too. We limited their shots a little bit, we played great defense late, we rebounded the ball, we kept attacking the offensive glass. At times, when your shot isn't working you've got to do other things."
That's exactly what Butler continues to do -- only this time his shot was working when his team needed it the most.
"Big shot," Noah said. "And it helped us win a ballgame. I couldn't be happier for Jimmy because I know how much work he puts into it. People don't realize how hard it is to play the amount of minutes that he plays. People really have no idea what that feels like. And what he does on a consistent basis for our team is just -- priceless."