- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- With a large ice pack around his midsection, Jimmy Butler looked tired and sore as he sat in front of his locker stall late Wednesday night.
It had been five days since he took a hard shot to his ribs, and the pain wasn't going away easily. He had admitted in recent days he still had a hard time breathing correctly because his side was so sore.
Butler's presence on the floor and his ability to perform at a high level despite the pain is something that sticks out to his teammates. They appreciate his effort and the work ethic he carries with him day after day.
"It was huge," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Jimmy, he brings that fire. He brings that intensity. He brings a lot of heart to this team. He takes matchups really personally, and I love that about him.
"I think he represents what Chicago Bulls basketball is all about. I love playing with Jimmy."
Noah is not alone.
Despite Butler's shooting woes throughout the season, his teammates and coaches never doubted that the hard-nosed kid from Texas would bounce back. Not only was Butler driving to the rim on Wednesday, his defense was on point, as well.
"I was concerned with him missing the time offensively," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He had such a good rhythm going prior to the injury. It was good to see that he picked up right where he left off. I thought he had a really good rhythm and played great defense."
For Butler, the decision to play wasn't a difficult one. In a season that has been marred by injuries and inconsistencies, Butler has started playing better in spurts over the last few weeks. He's hoping that play will continue.
"I just wanted to play," he said. "I hate sitting out. When my body can't do it, I just can't [play]. And today I felt good enough to where I could go out there, I could get the ball up to the rim with a limited amount of pain. So I said, 'Why not?' I'm going for it."
His teammates are glad he did. Butler and veteran guard Kirk Hinrich set an early defensive tone that the rest of their teammates followed.
They know what a healthy Butler can provide for their team and they're hoping he can stay on the floor for a while now. They respect the proud Marquette alum because of the effort he puts in all the time.
"He was in here working out, working on his game every day," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said. "That's why he was able to come back in and seamlessly help us like he never missed a beat, because he puts the time in even though he was getting rehab on his rib."
With Butler back in the fold, there's no reason the Bulls' winning ways should stop in the near future. They have now won seven of their last eight games and have several winnable games staring them in the face over the next week.
Wednesday's win is one they'll savor for a little while though. They know what it took to win this game on the second night of a back-to-back, and they understand what it will do for their confidence moving forward.
"I think we're confident," Noah said. "We're a confident group and today was a big win for us. We played against a team with great offensive firepower, definitely one of the best teams in the West, to come out there and kick their ass like that, it feels great.
"There's no better feeling. I'm going to drive home really happy tonight."