CHICAGO -- Fred Hoiberg hasn't always had a lot to smile about during his first season with the Chicago Bulls. It has been an up-and-down 18-12 campaign in which he has been challenged at seemingly every turn by critics, fans, and recently, his best player -- Jimmy Butler.
But after Butler took a lob pass from Pau Gasol with 1.2 seconds left in overtime and guided the ball into the basket to give the Bulls a 102-100 win over the Indiana Pacers, even Hoiberg couldn't stop himself from a joke and a few chuckles from the assembled media when asked to describe the last sequence.
"That's exactly how I drew it up," Hoiberg said.
In reality, it wasn't exactly the way Hoiberg and the Bulls envisioned the play to develop, but it worked out in the end. Here's how it happened:
At first glance, the Bulls were trying to run the same play they successfully ran about once a game. With 3.7 seconds left and the score tied at 100, Gasol was supposed to get the ball near the top of the 3-point arc and lob a pass into Butler for an alley oop. Why does it always work so well?
"Because people got to guard Pau," Butler said. "If Pau's open, Pau's going to shoot it. Not only is he going to shoot it, he's probably going to make it. And then Pau's just an incredible passer at that, putting the ball where only I can get it. And that was just another example of it on that last play."
The difference here was Butler said this particular play was designed for him to get the ball on the wing. As the clock wound down and Doug McDermott sent the ball over to Gasol, he looked for Butler and made a quick decision.
"I anticipated that Paul George was going to deny [Butler] and overplay him," Gasol said. "So the inbounds pass was going to be tough, directly from Doug. So I talked to Doug telling him, 'Look, if they overplay him, if they deny him, I'm going to be open at the top and then I'm going to make the play.' So I saw the opportunity and I threw it up. Doug was alert because we talked and it worked out and Jimmy tipped it in."
Hoiberg knew both players had to be thinking on the fly to make it happen.
"Jimmy slipped out of it, they made a great play," Hoiberg said. "Doug got it to Pau and then Jimmy made a great cut. The play was designed first for Jimmy. If he didn't have it then Pau was going to pop open and then Jimmy just made a heck of a cutback there."
Butler said Gasol deserved the credit for making the play happen.
"That's on Pau," Butler said. "That's just Pau being a smart player, a great player. He could have shot it, instead he put it up at the rim. Got my hand on it, put it into the basket. That basket should be credited to him because whenever Paul George was guarding me so tough, he popped it open -- that's Pau for you."
The frequency with which Gasol and Butler have combined for easy baskets this season from the same positions on the floor helped them create one of the most important finishes to date.
"Just a basketball play," Butler said. "Pau put the ball on the money to tell you the truth. I don't think there could have been a better pass. Pau's a great passing big and he's done that for me all season."