LOS ANGELES: Jimmy Butler scored 33 points to maintain Chicago’s push for the playoffs on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) as the Los Angeles Clippers overcame a late wobble to subdue the Lakers.
Butler scored the final nine points for the Bulls in their 106-104 win over the Atlanta Hawks at the United Center as Chicago overcame a nine-point deficit to seal the win.
The victory saw Chicago improve to 37-39, lifting them into a virtual three-way tie with the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers for the seventh playoff spot on offer from the Eastern Conference.
“Nobody picked us to be in the playoffs, nobody picked us to win,” Butler said.
“I’m just out there playing basketball. I want to win — I think everybody knows that.”
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg could not hide his admiration for Butler.
“He was phenomenal,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy did everything again. He just found a way to get to the basket … obviously, he was a huge part of that win.”
Butler was backed by Rajon Rondo, who had 25 points and 11 rebounds, while Denzel Valentine weighed in with 13 and Paul Zipser added 10.
Hoiberg meanwhile praised his team’s never-say-die attitude as they prepare to embark on a demanding four-game road trip which starts Sunday.
“It’s an important step when you can fight through adversity and find a way to come back from a big deficit like that,” Hoiberg said.
“It’s a couple of times in a row when we’ve fought back. We haven’t put our heads down and we continue to compete — that’s what it’s all about.”
Griffin warning for Clippers
In the Western Conference meanwhile, the fifth ranked Clippers were too strong for their city rivals the Lakers, who are languishing at the foot of the table at 21-55.
Blake Griffin scored 36 points in a 115-104 victory that gave coach Doc Rivers his 800th career win as the Clippers improved to 47-31.
Rivers side are now within one game of the Utah Jazz in the race for the fourth seed slot in the Western Conference.
But Griffin — who topped 10,000 career points in the first quarter — was unhappy with an inconsistent display which saw the Lakers (21-55) reduce a 21-point lead to eight during the closing stages.
Griffin later admitted that the Clippers’ failure to kill off opponents was a concern.
“It’s still something that needs to be worked out,” said Griffin. “I thought at times we came out to start the game the right way and then we took our foot off the gas.
“I thought we let our offense dictate our defense, had some bad turnovers early in the first quarter and it got them going a little bit.
“I thought we came out well in the third quarter, but we just haven’t put the lid on games very well,” added Griffin, calling on his team-mates to sharpen up for the playoffs.