CHICAGO (AP) — The warm reception, video tribute and dominant performance made Jimmy Butler‘s homecoming just about perfect.
All that was missing was a win.
Zach LaVine scored a season-high 35 points against his former team, and the Bulls spoiled Butler’s return to Chicago with a 114-113 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night.
Butler scored 38 to finish one shy of a season high. But the Bulls rallied from 17 down to snap a seven-game losing streak.
“It was cool,” Butler said. “Everybody knows I’ve got a lot of love for this organization, this city, this fan base. Me and Taj (Gibson) talk about it all the time: This is where it started for both of us. It greats to see familiar faces.”
LaVine came up big down the stretch while going at it with Butler, scoring Chicago’s final 11 points. He nailed three free throws after getting fouled by Butler to put Chicago ahead with 18.4 seconds left.
“Jimmy’s really a headstrong dude, an alpha,” LaVine said. “I’m not really gonna back down from anyone myself, either. I think that’s just how the game played out.”
Karl-Anthony Towns and Butler missed 3-pointers in the closing seconds, giving Minnesota another tight loss.
Robin Lopez scored 19 for Chicago, which had six players in double figures.
Butler and Gibson got standing ovations prior to their first game against the team that drafted them. There were more loud cheers following a video tribute in the first quarter, with both players standing and waving as the fans rose to their feet. And after the game, Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson talked to them in the locker room.
Butler wasn’t happy that the Bulls dealt him. He even acknowledged Friday, “I don’t think time really heals it.”
But he was glad Paxson came to see him after the game, saying, “That’s the guy Pax is.” And he had good things to say about the Bulls.
“I’m happy that they’re doing well,” Butler said. “They deserve it. The city of Chicago definitely deserves it.”
Butler delivered the sort of all-around performance Bulls fans grew accustomed to during his six seasons, before the draft night trade to Minnesota for LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen. The four-time All-Star finished with seven rebounds and five assists.
Andrew Wiggins scored 18 points, Towns added 14 points and 10 rebounds and Gibson scored 10 for the Timberwolves. But Minnesota blew a 17-point lead in the third quarter and came up short again after losing in overtime to Cleveland on Wednesday.
“We’re not good enough to think that the game is over five minutes into the third quarter,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “When you do that – we messed around, we played with fire and we got burned.”