Jimmy Butler makes it eight different players to score at least 50 points in a game this season

Photos from the game on Jan. 2, 2017, at the United Center. By K.C. Johnson
Scoring is up in the NBA this season — the median points scored per game is up more than four points per game this season over just two seasons ago. Teams are playing faster, shooting more threes, and scoring more buckets.

But what is stunning is the number of huge individual games this season.

Jimmy Butler‘s 52 point outburst on Monday night made him the eighth player this season to top 50 in a game. He joins Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson, James Harden, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Anthony Davis, and Isaiah Thomas. You can see highlights of all the performances above.

That ties the NBA record for most different players to get to 50 in a season in NBA history. It was done last season and in the 1989-90 season.

What’s crazy? We may well see more this season and a new record. Notice no Kevin Durant, no Stephen Curry, no DeMar DeRozan, no Damian Lillard, no LeBron James or Kyrie Irving on that list? There are a lot of guys in the league capable of having one of those nights who haven’t done so yet through the first 30+ games.

This has been one of the most interesting and entertaining NBA regular seasons in memory.

Jimmy Butler scores 52 points, basically beats Hornets by himself

There was a funny moment midway through the fourth quarter of the Chicago Bulls’ Monday night meeting with the Charlotte Hornets. Bulls star Jimmy Butler, who had played 32 minutes through three quarters, came off the bench with just over six minutes left in the game and Chicago trailing by four. As he walked onto the court, though, he realized he hadn’t yet taken his shooting shirt off:

Butler laughed, tossed off the warm-up gear and checked into the game. It wasn’t quite as iconic as stepping into a phone booth and ripping off your suit, but the results were about the same.

Butler absolutely dominated the end of this game, outscoring the Hornets by himself 17-11 over the final 6:21, including a dagger jumper with 32 seconds left and some clutch free throws in the final half-minute to lead the Bulls to a 118-111 victory over the visiting Hornets. He finished with a season-high 52 points — just one point off his career high, set nearly one year ago — to go with 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block in 38 minutes of work. He completely carried a Bulls club playing without starting shooting guard Dwyane Wade, who was sidelined by swelling in his left knee, and point guard Rajon Rondo, who picked up another DNP-CD as head coach Fred Hoiberg continues to go with young point guards Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant over the veteran.

With the exception of a lone long ball on a four-point play to give Chicago a one-point lead midway through the third quarter, Butler did his damage the old-fashioned way, knocking down 15 of his 24 field-goal attempts — 7-for-9 at the rim, 6-for-8 from midrange — and going a remarkable 21-for-22 at the foul line on his way to the third half-a-hundred-hanging in less than a week, and the eighth of the 2016-17 NBA season.

That ties the all-time record for 50-point games in a single campaign … and we’re not even at the All-Star break:

Jimmy Butler scores 52 in new-look Bulls' victory over Hornets

Don't say Dwyane Wade didn't warn anyone who listened.

Back in training camp, fielding a question about the championship expectations that had greeted the Bulls in every preseason since their unexpected 2011 run to the Eastern Conference finals, Wade got real.

"When you're coming off a season where you don't make the playoffs, your goal can't be winning a championship," Wade said. "Your goal has to be, day to day, making steps to improve yourself so you can get to a point where you're a playoff team. I'm not going to put a ceiling on us. But we're not thinking long term with so many new guys."

Wade spoke these truths in October, well before the Bulls' 118-111 victory over the Hornets on Monday night that continued the subtle shift to a youth movement.

But as long as Jimmy Butler keeps painting masterpieces, the Bulls will keep a playoff pulse.

Butler scored a season-high 52 points, his third 40-point outing of the season and one off his career high. He sank a career-high-tying 21 of his season-high 22 free-throw attempts. He shot 9-for-13 in the second half and scored 17 in the fourth quarter, drawing "MVP! MVP!" chants down the stretch.

"That's a little over my head," Butler cracked.

Maybe not considering Butler added 12 rebounds, six assists and three steals in the first 50-point game by a Bull at the United Center since Michael Jordan versus the Washington Bullets on April 27, 1997. Butler even had a four-point play. That's now five straight games with double-digit free-throw attempts.

"It's an understatement to say Jimmy was phenomenal," coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He did it every which way. I loved his aggressiveness. He made huge plays down the stretch."

Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic delivered huge defensive plays on consecutive possessions down the stretch — Gibson recording a block and Mirotic a steal — as the Bulls snapped a two-game skid in advance of Wednesday's game against the Cavaliers.

Even with Wade missing his first game of the season because of an injury, a swollen left knee that isn't considered serious, Rajon Rondo never left the bench. Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant split point guard duties. And rookie Denzel Valentine backed up Doug McDermott, who started for Wade at shooting guard, until rolling his left ankle in the third quarter.

There haven't been any Paul Zipser sightings yet because the Eastern Conference continues to be an avalanche of average beyond the Cavaliers, Raptors, Celtics and — on some nights — these Hornets. But at one point in the second quarter, the Bulls fielded a lineup of Carter-Williams, Grant, Valentine, Mirotic and Cristiano Felicio.

During that stretch, Valentine sank three straight 3-pointers for his career-high nine points. But leading a third-quarter fast break, Valentine badly rolled his left ankle while stepping on Nicolas Batum's foot. Replays showed a scene eerily reminiscent of Joakim Noah's gruesomely sprained ankle in the 2012 playoffs versus the 76ers.

Valentine walked and jumped around in the bench area without limping but was ruled out for the remainder of the game. Valentine, who sprained the same ankle in training camp, said he's day to day.

"I thought Denzel was great," Hoiberg said. "The first time he touched the ball says everything you need to know about the kid; he fired up a 3. I loved that about him. He's not afraid of the moment."

Mirotic, McDermott — whom Hoiberg utilized in the post — and Carter-Williams reached double figures as the Bulls tied a season high in points.

"I do whatever it takes to try to help this team win," Butler said.

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