By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Bulls wing Jimmy Butler won’t even entertain questions on it. Teammate Dwyane Wade marvels at it. Warriors coach Steve Kerr swears it must be a record in its own right.
One of the most inexplicable streaks in the NBA has lived to fight another three weeks: With a 94-87 victory against the league-leading Warriors, the Bulls stretched their winning streak in TNT Thursday home games to 18 games. It’s a run that dates back 1,470 days since the last such loss.
“That’s an NBA record, a hell of a run,” quipped Kerr, a former TNT analyst himself.
The Bulls’ TNT Thursday streak has been at times predictable, at times miraculous and always entertaining of late. On this Thursday, it induced a “smh” response — literally from the Warriors’ star backcourt of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who combined to score 36 points on 15-of-49 shooting, including an abysmal 3-of-22 on 3-pointers.
Curry and Thompson saw numerous long-range attempts rattle in and out. Their disbelief grew as the game wore on, with their myriad frowns, blank stares, shouts of anger and upward palms seemingly enough for a short documentary in and of itself. It wasn’t the the worst combined 3-point shooting night of their careers — they once shot a combined 2-of-20 from long range in a loss in November 2016 — but it was on the short list.
The Bulls had a lot to do with those struggles too. They started Butler on Team USA teammate Thompson, who shot 5-of-22, and kept him on him much of the night. They followed the game plan well, coach Fred Hoiberg emphasized. And the return of rookie forward Paul Zipser to the rotation after he missed seven games with an ankle injury was helpful too, as his 6-foot-8 frame and ability to switch on screen-and-rolls solidified a Chicago defense that had its worse month of the season in February.
Playing its first game since star Kevin Durant’s knee injury, Golden State (50-11) shot 38.6 percent, including 6-of-30 on 3-pointers.
Zipser scored nine points in 23 minutes and immediately returned to the closing lineup that went on a 7-0 run to turn an 85-84 deficit with 5:43 left into a victory.
“We were working a lot on split (actions)s, what they did today like the whole game,” Zipser said of the Bulls defense. “So we were pretty good (in being) prepared. We did a good job. We had to hustle every play.
“They have a lot of set plays. Everybody knows what they play and how they play, so we just had to prepare in how we defended. I think 87 points, we did a great job.”
The Bulls rising to the occasion against a quality foe was nothing new. Now 31-30, Chicago boasts a 15-13 record against teams that were above .500 entering Thursday and a 16-17 mark against foes that were below .500.
Nowhere is that trait more pronounced than on TNT Thursdays at the United Center, a situation in which the Bulls last lost on Feb. 21, 2013. The foe that beat them?
“The Heat,” Wade said. “I think I was on that team.”
Wade was correct. He just learned of this Bulls streak before the All-Star break, when he was home sick watching Chicago beat Boston by one point on Butler’s last-second free throws in the most harrowing decision of run.
“I was like, ‘Wow, that’s incredible,'” Wade said. “Bright lights, bright lights for this team. But I don’t think it has nothing to do with that. It’s just the nature of the beast. For someway, somehow, it keeps working. We’ll take it.
“When you’re playing the best teams in the league, when you’re playing the best players, you have a healthy fear in your belly, of what they can do to you, how they can embarrass you.”
With the win, the Bulls handed the Warriors their first two-game losing streak since early April 2015. Golden State’s run of 146 games in the regular season without consecutive losses was an NBA record.
For his part, Butler (team-high 22 points and six assists) hasn’t figured out how the Bulls rise up against some of the best and lay eggs against some of the NBA’s worst. He just wants to bottle up some of Thursday’s voodoo magic.
“Good question,” he said. “I don’t know. I think whenever it’s those primetime guys, everybody wants to show that they can play. I don’t have a problem with that, but now, you treat everybody as a primetime guy. Because that’s what it is in this league. You’re in the best league in the world. Everybody can play, so we just have to show up every single night.
“If we go out and play like we played against them or all the other games you’re talking about, we’ll be OK. Moving forward, let’s hope we can play like that.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.