CHICAGO • Even playing without two of his fellow starters on Monday, Jimmy Butler refused to change his mindset.
The Chicago Bulls player knew he might have to be a little more aggressive offensively than normal, but nothing else would change.
Especially his mission of doing what he needs to in order to give the Bulls the best chance of winning the National Basketball Association game.
He finished with 52 points, 12 rebounds and six assists as the Bulls defeated the Charlotte Hornets 118-111 at the United Centre.
The Bulls, playing without injured guard Dwyane Wade and benched point guard Rajon Rondo, surged behind Butler and came up with some key defensive stops down the stretch to win for just the fourth time in 12 games.
"I think it's an understatement to say Jimmy was phenomenal tonight," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He did it every which way."
Butler, who was 15 of 24 from the field and 21 of 22 from the free-throw line, took over in the final minutes when the Bulls created some distance from the Hornets.
He scored eight straight points and split two free throws with 23 seconds remaining to give Chicago a 112-106 lead.
He then capped the scoring with two free throws with 7.1 seconds left for the Bulls, who outscored the Hornets 36-26 in the final quarter.
"I was just playing basketball," Butler said. "I just had a groove."
Doug McDermott, starting in place of Wade, scored 11 points for the Bulls (17-18), who also got 12 points off the bench from Nikola Mirotic. Michael Carter-Williams, starting in place of Rondo, had 10 points.
Butler's team-mates fed off his lead as the Bulls outscored the Hornets 12-2 in the final 1:39 as the Hornets could not stop Butler down the stretch.
"Our defence is soft," Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. "We can't just pick and choose when to play it."
Kemba Walker led Charlotte (19-16) with 34 points and 11 rebounds to go along with 19 points by Nicolas Batum.
Jeremy Lamb (15 points) and Spencer Hawes (10 points) reached double figures for the Hornets.
Butler is 8th to hit 50-point mark
Jimmy Butler became the eighth player this season to achieve 50 points or more in a National Basketball Association game, tying the single season record with more than half of this 2016-17 season to go.
Houston's James Harden scored 53 points on Saturday, while Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (51), Boston's Isaiah Thomas (52), Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins (55), Washington's John Wall (52), New Orleans' Anthony Davis (50) and Golden State's Klay Thompson have all also achieved what was once a rare feat.
Thompson scored 60 points in just 29 minutes last month, further showcasing the league's increasing dependency on three-point shooting and the evolution of individual skill.
NBA scoring leader Westbrook is also threatening to become just the second player to average a triple-double for an entire season.
The Oklahoma City Thunder guard is averaging 30.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.7 assists this term.
Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double in the 1961-62 season while playing for the Cincinnati Royals.
How big the victory was for Chicago remains to be seen. After winning for the first time in three games heading into a road test at Cleveland today, the Bulls are hoping Monday's win can be a sign of things to come.
Butler said after the Bulls finished the year struggling, he and his team-mates need to find a way to string together some victories.
An impressive showing by Butler and his supporting cast was a step in the right direction. REUTERS
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