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Butler's defining splash couldn't come at better time for Bulls

CHICAGO -- Long after Derrick Rose talked at his locker following his second playoff game since 2012, Jimmy Butler relaxed nearby, kicking back and chatting on a cell phone while reporters buzzed around him.

It was a podium game for Butler, so he knew he could take his sweet time.

That’s when you know you’ve really arrived as an NBA star.

On Monday night, Butler surpassed his career playoff points high, set all the way back in the first game of this series, by scoring 31 in the Chicago Bulls' 91-82 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Chicago has a 2-0 lead in the first-round playoff series and now heads north to its Wisconsin cabin, also known as the Bradley Center.

It'll be the perfect showcase series for Butler, a Marquette grad headed for a payday so big it would allow him to buy most of Sheboygan and a side of Racine.

OK, that's a little much, but he definitely could afford a lot of Green Bay Packers shares.

Too bad the Bucks didn’t grab Butler in the 2011 draft. The Bulls stole him at No. 30, and now he’s an All-Star teamed with a former MVP in the backcourt.

When they have room to roam, Butler and Rose are very tough to handle. In the second half Monday, they got space and made use of it.

The duo combined for 46 total points and scored 36 of the team’s 52 in the second half, as the Bulls outlasted a long, physical Bucks team.

Butler and Rose combined for 48 in Game 1, which gives them 94 of the team’s 194 points in the series.

They each had a slow start Monday, as the Bulls struggled to break double figures as a team in the first quarter. Rose went scoreless in the first half, missing all seven field goal attempts, while Butler shot poorly, missing all four 3-point attempts but still scoring 10 points because he continued to get to the free throw line.

The Bucks, a strong defensive team, did a good job limiting the Bulls’ pick-and-roll, with big men stepping up and generally clogging the lanes.

In the second half, the Bulls guards got more space to roam. Butler scored 21, on 7-for-11 shooting, while Rose added 15 by hitting four of seven shots. The two combined to go 0-for-7 from 3 in the first half and 5-for-8 in the second, with Butler hitting all three 3-pointers he took in the fourth quarter. Half of the Bulls' 16 field goals in the second half were 3s.

Oh yeah, and Butler chipped in nine rebounds, while Rose had nine assists and seven boards.

Butler wound up 10-of-19 from the field and 8-of-14 from the free throw line. He played 46 minutes, which is good because his minutes restriction is typically 48.

It was Butler who got the Bulls and the crowd going with 7 minutes, 7 seconds left in the fourth quarter by driving past Khris Middleton for a two-handed baseline dunk over a swiping Zaza Pachulia. Butler hit the free throw as well, and that made it 81-74. The Bucks never got it closer than five points after that.

“The and-1 dunk Jimmy had was definitely huge,” Joakim Noah said. “He gave us confidence as a team. After he did that, he was really feeling himself.”

After the dunk, Noah chest-bumped Butler and gave him a shove backward.

“I think everybody was pumped up after that one,” Noah said.

It's been that kind of season for Butler, who led the Bulls with 20 points per game this season. He isn’t slowing now -- and his star will only get brighter if he can duplicate this performance in what should be a second-round matchup with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Butler's 14 points in the fourth quarter changed Monday's narrative and turned an unwatchable Eastern Conference playoff game into something of a personal showcase.

“Jo and Derrick were telling me to score the ball,” he said. “Like literally telling me to shoot and not pass up any shots. I was feeling it a little bit.”

When asked about Butler and Rose in the second half, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau highlighted Pau Gasol's drawing double-teams, which the big man has done all series to help free the guards.

“What you can’t lose on that is what Pau contributed on that,” he said. “Because a lot of that is coming off of Pau.”

Gasol had 11 points (on 4-for-12 shooting) and 16 rebounds. He knows a thing or two about playing with great two-way shooting guards.

"Every play that he made offensively down the stretch was huge and gave us a big lift,” Gasol said of Butler. “What a season for him. Lots of minutes, but he's incredibly effective, and right now he's doing a great job for us offensively, carrying a lot of load. So he needs these couple days to rest up and get ready for the next battle."

The battleground is a familiar one for Butler. Don’t get Noah going about Butler’s love of Milwaukee.

“Jo thinks Milwaukee is my favorite city,” Butler said. “I disagree with him, but I mean, I like it there. I played college ball there. They got a lot of love for me there, right, Jo?”

“I’ve never met somebody so excited for a shootaround as Jimmy Butler in Milwaukee,” Noah said.

They love him in Milwaukee, Chicago, Tomball, Texas -- you name it. Butler is turning into a national star at the perfect time.