Thursday December 31st, 2015

In an often trying season in Chicago, the Pau Gasol-to-Jimmy Butler alley-oop has been a particular and consistent delight. Gasol’s touch on lob passes sends the ball floating on a perfect arc. Butler, who generally reads his defender perfectly in seeking out opportunities for back cuts, sells his fake and springs free through the backdoor. It’s a beautiful bit of read-and-react chemistry that has served the Bulls well.

On Wednesday night, that very play bailed out the Bulls in a hard-fought 102–100 overtime win against the Pacers. Butler had willed Chicago to overtime and helped his team capitalize by building an early lead in the extra period. That lead wilted away in the final minutes, evaporating completely when Monta Ellis hit a game-tying corner three-pointer off a Pacers offensive rebound with just 3.7 seconds remaining. From there, Gasol and Butler took over.

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Butler doesn’t catch and finish this particular lob as cleanly as he usually does, but still he has the presence and touch to collect Gasol’s feed and guide it toward the rim. It’s luck, it’s skill and it’s game. The Pacers attempted to run a lob play of their own for Paul George with what time remained, but thanks in part to some questionable midair contact were unsuccessful.

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