PHILADELPHIA -- Fred Hoiberg saw that look in Jimmy Butler's eye.
Hoiberg, the first-year coach of the Chicago Bulls, knew exactly what it meant. Despite the fact that Butler didn't participate in Thursday's shootaround because of a sprained right ankle and was questionable to even play against the Philadelphia 76ers, he knew Butler wasn't coming out in the middle of the best performance of his career, a 53-point showcase in which the All-Star swingman did just about everything for the Bulls.
"It was one of those looks like, 'If you take me out, I'm going to quit,'" Hoiberg said after the Bulls' 115-111 overtime victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. "That kind of thing. So I kept him in there."
After it was over, both Hoiberg and the rest of his players were in awe of Butler's latest record-setting performance. After setting a franchise mark for points in a half with 40 in the second half of a Jan. 3 win over the Toronto Raptors, Butler outdid himself Thursday by finishing with 53 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists in 49 minutes. What makes Butler's performance even more impressive is how multi-faceted it was. Butler was 15-for-30 from the field, 21-for-25 from the free throw line and played the final 37 minutes without being subbed out, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The fact that he did this on a night when the Bulls played without Derrick Rose (left knee patellar tendinitis) and Pau Gasol (rest) makes it shine even brighter.
"I think they're both the same -- we won," Butler said of those performances. "That's all I'm worried about. I got some hellified teammates though, man, keep getting me the ball, telling me to score, be aggressive. And then supporting me on defense, whenever I make some bad plays they're always there to help. Same thing on offense, man. This is damn sure a team win."
As much as Butler wants to share the praise, he is the man who carried his team most of the night. Butler's 53-point output is the most by any Bulls player since Michael Jordan scored 55 on April 27, 1997. Butler became just the fourth player in franchise history to score 50 points in a regular-season game.
The proud 26-year-old admitted that he was "feeling" his ankle injury, but he played through the pain in part because of a wager he made before the season began.
"Because I got a bet with my trainer that I'm going to play 82 games," Butler said when asked why he played when he could have sat out. "When I'm nicked up, Travelle Gaines said we got to get you to play 82. So I got to continue to take care of my body, hydrate, keep icing my knees and all that stuff.
"It was something we talked about all summer whenever I was training. I put my body through the most in the summer, I maxed it out to be able to do the same during the season. He said 'Hey, let's do it," and I said, 'All right, it's a bet,' and I'm on my way."
Bulls teammate E'Twaun Moore hit several huge shots at the end of regulation and in overtime, but it was Butler who carried this group for long stretches. Less than a month ago, Butler publicly called out Hoiberg, saying the new coach needed to coach his team "harder." Late Thursday night, Butler smiled while recounting Hoiberg's message after Chicago fell down 16 points to a terrible Sixers team.
"Fred came in here and got on our ass to tell you the truth," Butler said. "We had to turn this s--- around, he knew it, we knew it, and he went out there and coached the s--- out of us. Made us run these plays, make sure we execute, and that's what I'm talking about from him."
Butler said it was the maddest he'd seen Hoiberg all season, but he didn't mind.
"I like it though," Butler said. "He was fired up -- before the game, too. So when we came in at halftime, he came in and let us know this is not how we're going to play. And that's what I like to see."
Hoiberg said the organization would watch how Butler was feeling prior to Friday's visit from the Dallas Mavericks, the Bulls' fourth game in five nights, but Butler seemed intent on playing.
"We'll see how he is in the morning," Hoiberg said. "He'll obviously get treatment tonight. Jimmy's a warrior. He's out there fighting. As the game went on it almost looked like he got, I don't know if fresher is the word, but the ankle kept feeling better and better as the game went on. Obviously he's fighting and playing through adrenaline as the game goes into overtime. So yeah, we'll see how everything is in the morning. I'm sure he'll come in for a treatment, get one obviously right now, ice him on the way home, get him a couple tomorrow before the game and see how he's doing."
As for the latest Jordan comparison, Butler, as usual, wanted no part of it.
"Michael's the best player to ever play this game," Butler said. "And I'm just playing my role on this team. That's all I think about -- and I wear his shoes, so I think he's got a couple notches up on me, a lot of them, actually."