CHICAGO -- As Nate Robinson got ready to walk out of the happy Chicago Bulls locker room late Wednesday night, he was asked about a moment that will help define the end of the Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak for years to come.
In the third quarter with the Bulls clinging to a 62-61 lead, Luol Deng threw up a pass to Jimmy Butler at the rim that he grabbed in the air and stuffed over Heat big man Chris Bosh. It was a posterization that lifted almost all of the 23,014 fans in the United Center off their collective feet.
"Great play," Robinson said. "Awesome. I told Jimmy to ask Chris Bosh to sign the poster, but he probably won't do it."
In the years to come, Bosh probably won't be signing any of those posters ... but Butler certainly will. On a night when the Bulls seemed to mature in front of everyone's eyes without Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Marco Belinelli and Rip Hamilton, there might not have been another player who made a bigger leap, both literally and figuratively, than Butler.
Starting in just his eighth game of the season, the swingman had 17 points, five assists and four rebounds in 43 minutes. While his performance in such a historic game may have come as a surprise to the basketball world, it didn't surprise the people that have been around him the most in the last couple of years.
"He played great," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He was faced with the guarding of [Dwyane] Wade and LeBron [James]. He just keeps getting better and better. He played a lot of minutes and made great hustle plays. He hits shots. Jimmy has a great demeanor and just goes out there and competes."
As the season has progressed, Butler has repeatedly talked about how much more confidence he has in his game. It was that confidence that was on full display Wednesday night. His teammates know the amount of time the second-year player from Marquette has put into his game, and they can see how much he has improved. Deng, whom Butler has looked up to since coming to Chicago, says he believes he knows why Butler has been able to take the next step in his game.
"He works hard," Deng said of Butler. "I'm not trying to take credit or anything, but I feel like a huge part of game the last three years I've had Griff with me. [Assistant coach] Adrian Griffin, I played with him. The same position as me ... and he works with Jimmy. And Griff doesn't get a lot of credit, but he makes sure I'm in the gym. He makes sure Jimmy's in the gym at night, we're shooting. All this little stuff is good to have people around you, that believe in you, and are willing to just come in and work with you any time and I feel like Griff has done that for both of us."
With Griffin's tutelage and Butler's work ethic, the fascinating part about the 23-year-old's game is that it is only getting better. The irony is that the better Butler becomes, the easier it may be for the Bulls to consider dealing Deng in the offseason if they want to rid themselves of the final year of his contract worth over $13 million. For the time being, Butler isn't worried about any part of the future. He just wants to bask with his teammates in the glow of breaking the Heat's streak when few thought they could.
"It means a lot," Butler said. "On our home floor, the rivalry that we have, we know we got to go through them in the playoffs most likely. We're just proving to ourselves as long as we play hard and compete we can beat them."