- Nick Friedell, Chicago Bulls beat reporter
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MILWAUKEE -- Jimmy Butler's play isn't a surprise anymore. His ascension from solid defender to All-Star isn't as shocking as it was in November. His leap from inconsistent jump shooter to 20-point scorer isn't as jarring.
But what Butler has shown in the first three games of the Chicago Bulls' first-round playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks is another step in his evolution. The affable 25-year-old is taking a full-fledged step from All-Star toward superstar.
The Bulls spent a big part of last summer chasing down the type of player they actually already had on the roster. In less than a year, Butler has become the complementary star the Bulls have been trying to pair in the backcourt with Derrick Rose for years. That was evident again in a 113-106 double-overtime win over the Bucks in Game 3 on Thursday.
Rose carried the Bulls at times offensively, but it was Butler -- yet again -- who served as the glue on both ends of the floor. In 53 minutes of play, Butler went 8-for-20 from the floor, scored 24 points, grabbed three rebounds, nabbed three steals and dished out two assists. Not to mention Butler was faced with trying to lock up Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo most of the night.
When Rose was reminded before the game how the organization struggled for years to find a complementary star to pair with him, he couldn't help but chuckle himself.
"Got one now," Rose said of Butler.
"I'm going to keep feeding him. He's got to keep taking his shots, and we're just going to keep boosting his confidence."
Butler's confidence can't get much higher. Despite his "I'm just a role player" attitude, his belief in himself is stronger than at any other point during his pro career. He believes nobody can stop him on the floor these days, which is a great thing for the Bulls given how big of a challenge that likely awaits them in Round 2 against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"How good is Jimmy?" Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "He's very good. Very good player. We have a very strong backcourt right now. Both him and Derrick, it's very good. I'm very happy to have them as teammates. They're competing hard, and it's making us that much better."
With Rose and Butler playing at such a high level, it's little wonder why the Bulls are so confident heading into Saturday's Game 4. After years of trying to find the right mixture in the backcourt, Butler and Rose have come together at the right time. Rose believes Butler is "on a mission," and Butler is thankful he is getting a chance to play with Rose on a nightly basis again after all of the former MVP's injuries.
"It means a lot," Butler said of Rose's words. "Derrick is a hell of a player, and I think he could take over the game at any point in time, so I just try to play my role and do whatever it does to help us win."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said he believes Butler has a "comfort level" in the Bradley Center because he spent his college career playing in the same gym while at Marquette. That comfort level was apparent in the locker room with his teammates as well.
As Butler sat in the old folding chair in front of his locker, he sucked down Blue Raspberry Pedialite after his 53-minute performance. He playfully asked teammate Tony Snell for a shoutout during his interview -- and brushed off any worry about playing so many minutes shortly thereafter.
"I've played more I believe," he said. "It's a little tiring. Not a lot, just a little. But I guess that's what ice is for."
For a guy who says he doesn't enjoy being in the spotlight and talking about himself, Butler is acquitting himself nicely of his newfound fame.
The Bulls spent last summer searching for a scorer to pair with Derrick Rose. Little did they know they already had him in Jimmy Butler.