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Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler earning crunch-time minutes with his ‘D’

Bulls guard Jimmy Butler grabs rebound second half Chicago Bulls 80-76 loss IndianPacers December 4 2012 United Center. | Tom

Bulls guard Jimmy Butler grabs a rebound in the second half of the Chicago Bulls 80-76 loss to the Indiana Pacers December 4, 2012 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 9, 2012 10:47PM



It would’ve been nice if Taj Gibson had been on the court, or at least courtside, to watch the continued maturation of Jimmy Butler on Saturday.

Unfortunately, Gibson was tossed from the eventual victory over the Knicks late in the first half, so he had to view it on a TV in the locker room at the United Center.

“It’s great to see, but we’ve been seeing it in practice every day this year,’’ Gibson said.

More important, coach Tom Thibodeau has been witnessing it every day, and that’s why Butler is becoming a finisher off the bench.

Butler played heavy minutes in the fourth quarter against New York, grabbing four of his eight rebounds and giving the Bulls an 81-77 lead with a driving backdoor layup with 4:03 left.

“Jimmy was great,’’ Thibodeau said.

“Great’’ for Thibodeau translates to “Jimmy played great defense.’’

Butler can score all he wants, but the ticket to playing time is his ability to guard four positions.

“Without a doubt,’’ Butler said. “That’s what gets me on the floor — to guard and rebound. It starts with that. That’s what’s going to keep me on the floor.’’

While many NBA coaches hand out minutes to first-round picks, Thibodeau makes them earn it. That takes some getting used to coming out of college.

“It’s different, no doubt,’’ said Butler, the 30th pick in 2011. “The league itself is at a faster pace, going up against key talent each and every night, so it’s not easy, to say the least. Then add the fact that you have to earn your minutes by what you do defensively; it’s a transition.’’

Teammates have helped Butler get through that transition. Gibson and Joakim Noah have become fourth-quarter fixtures after earning Thibodeau’s trust defensively.

Gibson said when Butler joins him out there, there’s a defensive freedom because of their versatility.

“Jimmy can guard multiple players; I can guard multiple players,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘[Against the Knicks], I was on [three-point specialist] Steve Novak for a while. If we have to switch, there isn’t a scramble because of mismatches.’’

But what about Butler’s offense?

The way he sees it, that question will be answered. Eventually.

“I just feel like, and I’m not saying I’m not a good offensive player, but it comes with reps and with confidence,’’ Butler said. “When you know where you get your shots at, it makes it a lot easier. With the reps, that’s going to come.’’

Someday.

For now, it’s all about those last 12 minutes.



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