The Bulls hadn’t started a game at full strength since Oct. 31, a night, coincidentally, that featured a 30-point road shellacking of the Nets in one of their more complete performances this season.
This meeting didn’t go nearly as smoothly, but Jimmy Butler authored a fantastic finish at the United Center.
With Dwyane Wade missing most of the fourth quarter with a migraine headache, Butler took over, capping his 40-point night and 13-point fourth quarter with a buzzer-beater over Bojan Bogdanovic that gave the Bulls a 101-99 victory.
“He was phenomenal, obviously,” coach Fred Hoiberg said of Butler. “He just put the team on his shoulders and willed us to the finish line. We needed every one of (those points).”
Butler almost single-handedly brought the Bulls back from what would have been an inexcusable defeat. The Nets, 1-15 on the road, have lost their last 11 away from home by an average of 15 points and have allowed 24 straight road opponents to score 100 or more points.
But on a night the Nets outscored the Bulls 39-9 from 3-point range, it took Butler’s monster effort, which also featured 11 rebounds, four assists, four steals and 11-for-11 from the line.
“I said get the hell out of his way and let him go to work,” Hoiberg said of the final play. “That’s what happened.”
The Bulls trailed 97-90 when Butler, who had exited for 27 seconds earlier in the period when he rolled his right ankle on Randy Foye’s foot, sank a 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 24 seconds left.
“Everybody was holding their breath in a big way when he went down. It looked pretty serious,” Hoiberg said. “It’s a gutty, gutty performance down the stretch coming back from that injury.”
After Foye missed two free throws, Butler was fouled and sank two of his own. Rajon Rondo’s steal led to a Michael Carter-Williams’ basket, his first after an 0-for-11 stretch in his first two games back.
Butler then added another steal and a mid-range jumper with 27.7 seconds remaining to cap the 9-0 run. But Brook Lopez, who finished with 33 points that included a career-high five 3-pointers, dunked over his brother Robin with 12.6 seconds left to tie the game 99-99.
“I did a rhythm that I practice every single day, every single night,” Butler said of his game-winner, a 20-footer. “It went in.”
The Bulls shot 39.8 percent after shooting 38.6 percent in Monday’s victory over the Pacers. Strong free-throw shooting — the Bulls went 28-for-29 — saved them along with Butler, who said he never doubted he would return.
“D-Wade was in the back,” Butler said. “I needed to come out here and put on for D-Wade.”
Wade, who missed the shootaround in Charlotte with a migraine and was plagued by them in Miami as well, came our from the locker room to join the on-court celebration. He said he hadn’t ruled out playing in overtime if needed after getting a neck massage because the migraine led to muscular issues.
“I had a headache before the game,” Wade said. “I took a fall in the second half and banged my head. I guess the way my body jerked and reacted, it kind of triggered my headache back. I lost a little vision in my eye. I couldn’t see the rim. My wife was talking to me; I couldn’t see her.”
Wade did say his vision improved postgame.
Doug McDermott returned from missing one game with a sore left shin to join Carter-Williams, who returned last game for his first action since Oct. 31 in Brooklyn. The full roster produced a nine-man rotation that featured spot minutes for Jerian Grant as the 10th when Wade first retreated to the locker room in the second quarter to have a cut on his finger treated.
Neither of the last two first-round picks — Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine — is currently in the rotation.
Hoiberg said management hasn’t approached him to play young players, a subject executive vice president John Paxson broached as a possible option in a recent interview on WSCR-670 AM.
More performances like this one and that could change.