CHICAGO – It’s just too fitting, again.
The player who was traded to the rebuilding team faced the major player who was traded to a potential contender and found a way to upstage him. It’s got a bit of a “Hollywood” feel, but it certainly makes for some good storylines.
That’s exactly what has played out the last two times that Jimmy Butler has returned to the United Center. One of the main players that was acquired for him in the trade in the summer of 2017, Zach LaVine, managed to upstage his return to Chicago not once, but twice.
After hitting the game-winning free throws against the Butler-led Timberwolves in a Bulls win back in February of 2018, LaVine upstaged the forward in his return to the United Center with the Sixers on Wednesday. His layup with 1.6 seconds left capped a memorable 108-107 victory over Philadelphia on Wednesday in what is easily one of most memorable games of the season with an unusual ending.
LaVine’s layup was the last of his 39 points on the night, but he drew the foul as well, but missed the free throw. It was rebounded by the Sixers with .5 left, and their ensuing inbounds pass towards the hoop was initially ruled to have been tipped by Robin Lopez, putting an end to the game. But a few minutes after the conclusion of the game, with most of the fans already gone and some of the players in the locker room, the refs ruled the ball hadn’t been touched and ordered the last .5 to be replayed.
Butler got his shot to be the hero but bobbled the inbounds and time ran out, as once again a player he was traded for bested him in Chicago.
Both games were incredibly similar, too, with each being decided by a single point. On February 9, 2018, it was LaVine who scored the final 11 points of the game, adding to his 35 on the night, the last of which came on three-straight free throws on a foul drawn by Butler. He then got a shot to win the game for Minnesota, but his three-pointer was off the mark, as the Bulls won it 114-113.
As LaVine remained with the Bulls’ rebuild, Butler orchestrated a trade away from the Timberwolves to the Sixers earlier in the season, and had yet to face his former team. Then led by Fred Hoiberg, and before the forward was acquired by the team, Philadelphia beat the Bulls in the season opener on October 18th. Butler had 22 points in his second game against his former team in Chicago, and the last two of those with 4.8 seconds left gave the Sixers a one-point lead.
But LaVine got another chance when he took a quick pass from Robin Lopez after the inbounds pass and got a clear lane to the hoop after a blown assignment in the paint, putting in the layup while drawing the foul. It proved to be the victorious moment, even after the bizarre final .5 seconds, as the two players featured in a trade nearly two years ago played a critical part in a Butler homecoming.
Once again, it was Zach who stole the show.