Call in dis­pute, but out­come isn’t

But­ler’s 2 free throws af­ter con­tro­ver­sial foul with : 0.9 left lift Bulls

Chicago Sun-Times - - BULLS BEAT - JEFF ARNOLD

All Jimmy But­ler was look­ing for was a clean look.

Af­ter turn­ing the ball over with the Bulls trail­ing the Bos­ton Celtics by a point in the last minute Thurs­day, all But­ler wanted was a shot to win the game — and at re­demp­tion.

Coach Fred Hoiberg’s strat­egy was sim­ple: Get the ball to Jimmy.

But­ler got the ball and bided his time as the fi­nal sec­onds ticked away. His jump shot floated through the air, grazed the rim and fell short. The fi­nal horn sounded, and it ap­peared the Bulls had al­lowed an­other game to slip through their fin­gers.

But as the Celtics cel­e­brated, of­fi­cials in­di­cated de­fender Mar­cus Smart had grazed But­ler’s el­bow on the shot at­tempt and checked the video.

Sud­denly, the se­cond chance But­ler had hoped for turned into a third. Af­ter he made the two free throws with 0.9 sec­onds left and the Celtics’ Al Hor­ford missed a jumper as time ex­pired, the Bulls ex­haled af­ter sur­viv­ing a 104- 103 thriller at the United Cen­ter.

Af­ter­ward, But­ler said he agreed with the call.

‘‘ A foul’s a foul; he hit my el­bow,’’ said But­ler, who scored 29 points. ‘‘ I don’t care what no­body says. I think I make [ the shot] if he doesn’t al­ter it like that.”

Re­gard­less of how it hap­pened, the Bulls ( 28- 29) im­proved to 6- 1 this sea­son against the Cleve­land Cava­liers, Celtics and Toronto Rap­tors, whom they de­feated Tues­day. Those are three of the top four teams in the East­ern Con­fer­ence.

Per­haps more im­por­tant, a team that has en­dured ups and downs, fin­ger- point­ing and in­fight­ing dur­ing the course of its first 57 games found a way to come to­gether when it mat­tered most.

De­spite play­ing their third con­sec­u­tive game with­out Dwyane Wade ( wrist, ill­ness), the Bulls sal- vaged a much- needed vic­tory head­ing into the All- Star break.

‘‘ It’s just a great win — two good ones head­ing into the break,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘ We just have to make sure we come back strong.’’

For all the drama that has taken place this sea­son, the Bulls’ victo- ries this week against the Rap­tors and Celtics pro­vided fur­ther ev­i­dence they can com­pete with the NBA’s top- tier teams, even when they aren’t at full strength.

But what’s yet to be seen is how the Bulls will re­spond in their last 25 games of the reg­u­lar sea­son. As it stands now, they are in sev­enth place in the East.

For as many big vic­to­ries as the Bulls have earned thus far, they will have to ad­dress and over­come the in­con­sis­tency that has kept them hov­er­ing around the .500 mark all sea­son.

The last- se­cond vic­tory against the Celtics — con­tro­ver­sial or oth­er­wise — was a step in the right di­rec­tion. But But­ler ac­knowl­edged it wasn’t the last one the Bulls must take.

‘‘ It’s big; all wins are,’’ But­ler said. ‘‘ But we can’t be sat­is­fied. We can’t set­tle right now. We’ve got to start win­ning th­ese games, get over .500 and keep look­ing for­ward.’’

Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ Jef­fArnold_.

The Bulls’ Jimmy But­ler is fouled by the Celtics’ Mar­cus Smart in the fi­nal se­cond Thurs­day at the United Cen­ter. | GETTY IMAGES

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