We saw early signs in November, but it’s become very obvious - Jimmy Butler is transforming into one of the NBA’s best two-way players.
The Toronto Raptors saw it first-hand on Monday night, as his 27 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks, four assists and one steal stuffed the stat line and led the Chicago Bulls to a 129-120 win over the Toronto Raptors.
The loss snaps a six-game winning streak for the Raptors, as they began a difficult road trip that continues against the Clippers on Saturday afternoon. They fall to 22-7, but remain atop the Eastern Conference. Chicago improves to 18-9.
Derrick Rose was also remarkable after two games missed with the flu. Looking no worse for wear, he dropped a team-high 29 points, going toe for toe with Kyle Lowry in the fourth quarter for a point guard two-step that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Lowry gave it his all (what else is new?), putting in his own fantasy-friendly line of 34 points, six rebounds and three assists, making some truly ridiculous shots in the final quarter.
At the heart of the Raptors’ efforts, though, was Jonas Valanciunas. It was obvious Dwane Casey wanted to make Pau Gasol defend following the Spaniard’s 27-point explosion in the November 13 matchup. This meant initiating Valaciunas early, which they did in spades. He put up a season-high 18 shots, 12 of them in the first quarter alone, pouring in 20 points.
Anchored by their big man, the Raptors start was impressive. They scored 66 points in the first half, as role players Terrence Ross and James Johnson started a combined 9-for-9 from the field. Ross made all this three-point attempts in the first half, but trailed off down the stretch.
He wasn’t alone. In the fourth quarter, Chicago’s disruptive defense messed with what the Raptors wanted to do on offense. It didn’t necessarily cause turnovers - the Raptors committed only seven on the night - but it did turn a lot of Toronto possessions into isolation plays. Lowry’s circus shots kept his team close momentarily, but eventually the wasted possessions added up.
On the other end, Chicago buried 49(!!) points in the final quarter and, with Rose and Butler both explosive, looked every bit the team many have expected to represent the East in June. Before that, the Raptors will have one more kick at the can - these two teams meet again on March 20.
So, the Raptors will head into their holiday break on a low note. They get four days off before a flight to Los Angeles, as a west coast swing gets underway.
What were your takeaways from tonight?