CHICAGO • Jimmy Butler has stood up for the Chicago Bulls this season and has helped the franchise transition out of their dependence on the injury-ravaged Derrick Rose.
The shooting guard scored a team-high 23 points and added six assists on Friday, as the Bulls routed the New York Knicks 108-81 despite the absence of Rose, who missed a second straight National Basketball Association game owing to a right hamstring problem.
Forwards Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic scored 17 points apiece, and rookie forward Bobby Portis contributed 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.
Chicago (19-12) outscored the Knicks 31-8 in the fourth quarter. New York's (15-19) eight points marked their lowest offensive output in any quarter this season.
"We had some shots that didn't go in to start the fourth quarter, and I thought we got discouraged and let our energy get turned around the other way," Knicks coach Derek Fisher said.
"It kind of snowballed from there."
The 26-year-old Butler credited reserves such as Portis and forward Doug McDermott, who finished with 13 points including 11 in the fourth quarter, for providing a lift off the bench in the final 12 minutes.
"That's the way we're supposed to play," he said. "Guarding, guys stepping up and knocking down big shots."
The Bulls' top scorer and defender is fast becoming an emboldened vocal leader following his breakout season last campaign, when he was named the NBA's Most Improved Player and earned his first All-Star Game appearance.
Following a 107-91 rout by the Knicks on Dec 19, Butler called out Bulls first-year coach Fred Hoiberg, saying he needed to coach the team harder and hold them more accountable. He was criticised for the statements at the time, though it has clearly lit a spark under the Bulls, who have won their last three games.
Chicago are squarely in the Eastern Conference mix, sitting fourth in the standings, despite finding a new identity under Hoiberg.
Rose, the 2010-2011 league Most Valuable Player, continues to try to get back into form and complete his first season free of major injury in five years.
But the fate of the Bulls may no longer rest on Rose's shoulders with Butler now doing the heavy lifting.