The Bulls (15-16) went for their third win in a row when they hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves (7-26) on Wednesday night, attempting to match their longest winning streak of the season. Coming into the game, the team boasted back-to-back victories over the Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets, pulling within two games of .500. Tonight also marked Zach LaVine's first contest since being named an Eastern Conference All-Star, the first Bulls player to do so since Jimmy Butler in 2017.
The Timberwolves came to Chicago on short rest after a 139-112 road loss against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night. Karl-Anthony Towns and Malik Beasley had 26 points apiece to lead Minnesota. However, the Timberwolves forgot to play defense, allowing the Bucks to shoot 53.5 percent overall (53 of 99) and 47.6 percent from beyond the three-point arc (20 of 42). The Bucks dealt Minnesota their fifth loss in a row and their first since firing head coach Ryan Saunders who was replaced by Toronto Raptors assistant Chris Finch.
The Timberwolves hoped for a bounce-back performance from rookie Anthony Edwards, who managed only nine points on 3-for-13 shooting against the Bucks. LaVine began the night with an average of 28.6 points per game to go along with 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists. After back-to-back poor performances against Detroit and Philadelphia, Coby White bounced back nicely, averaging 21.5 points go to with 6.5 rebounds in his last two games.
This was the first meeting of the season between the two teams. With the win, the Bulls are now 2-4 in their last six matchups against Minnesota. Zach LaVine continues to dazzle, setting a personal record of 18 straight games of at least 20 points. He would finish the night with a line of 35-2-2. Coby White added 20 points to go with eight assists and six rebounds. Tomas Santoransky (16-5-4) and Wendell Carter Jr. (17-10-2) also played well. A controversial call at the end of the fourth quarter sent the game to overtime but the Bulls showed their character under coach Billy Donovan when, instead of folding, they imposed their will and came away with a victory.
The Bulls have now been involved in 19 games of five points or less with five minutes left, good for fourth in the league. However, a whopping 21 turnovers turned what should have been an easy win into a nail-biter. Tonight marks the first time the team has had a game with 20 or more turnovers since they lost to Oklahoma City on 1/15. At times, they also failed to match Minnesota's hustle. This is something that Donovan will surely be addressing during film study.
Another Slow Start Quickly Corrected
The Bulls got off to a sluggish start, allowing Minnesota to jump out to a 7-0 lead after three possessions. For whatever reason, low energy and playing down to their competition early in games has become commonplace for the Bulls. Coach Donovan must address these bad habits as his young team continues to grow. Coby White and Zach LaVine, however, were determined not to have a repeat of the game against the Pistons which required a 25-point comeback.
White looked to get his teammates involved in the first half with four assists, doubling his average for the last two contests. White added eight points and three rebounds. LaVine remained locked in as he has been all year, finishing with 16 points after two quarters. He was supported by a stellar half from both Wendell Carter Jr. (13-4-1) and Patrick Williams (9-2-2). Coach Donovan found an effective combination when playing Tomas Satoransky (7-2-1) at the point while sliding White to shooting guard. Both were simply too good to take off the floor in the first half.
The most glaring critiques at half time; too many turnovers (eight) and poor interior defense which allowed Minnesota to shoot over 60% in the paint. Jarred Vanderbilt (12-5-0) was the most effective player on the floor for the Timberwolves, playing with impressive athleticism and energy. Karl-Anthony Towns (7-3-3) and Anthony Edwards (9-3-2) both struggled to gain their footing and the Bulls went into the locker room with a 68-58 lead.
Déjà Vu and Controversy
To start the second half, the Bulls were unable to match Minnesota's energy and ball movement (where have we seen this movie before?). In particular, offensive rebounds and second-chance points (23) were the biggest issues, allowing the Timberwolves to cut the Bulls' lead to only four points. Luckily White, Williams, and LaVine carried their momentum from the first half into the third quarter, keeping Minnesota at bay. Satoransky continued his strong play and, in the third quarter, found himself on the court more than White.
The game slowed down even more for LaVine who entered the fourth quarter with 25 points. But Anthony Towns, determined to keep his team in the game, came out angry and finished with 17 points in the third frame. With 4:30 to go in the fourth quarter, a big shot by LaVine from downtown, followed by a Thaddeus Young layup, increased the Bulls' lead to ten. But sharpshooter Malik Beasley connected from behind the arc on two straight possessions and the lead was once again down to four.
With 60 seconds to play, LaVine drove to the basket for his 31st and 32nd points of the night, but Edwards would answer with a three-pointer on the next possession and the lead was cut to only one. With 12.3 seconds left, after Anthony-Towns fouled out, Minnesota would intentionally foul Satoransky on the next play. Tomas would hit both free throws with ten seconds on the clock, setting up Minnesota's final possession, marred by a controversial call.
With a foul to give, White was instructed to wrap up the ball carrier before Minnesota could get off a potentially game-tying shot. Being the veteran that he is, Rubio saw an opportunity and threw the ball towards the rim with White hanging on his arms. The replay clearly showed White had fouled Rubio on the floor, not once, but twice and you could go so far as to argue that Rubio wasn't even shooting, he was passing. Nevertheless, the refs took the bait and Rubio went to the line for three shots, making all three and sending the game to overtime.
A Young Team Shows Resiliency, Grit
The first seven points of overtime belonged to the Bulls, highlighted by a three-pointer from, who else, LaVine. White also came up big down the stretch, adding six points in the extra period, including a posterizing dunk over Vanderbilt. Edwards did his best to keep the game close, connecting from downtown with two minutes to go to cut the deficit to four. Garrett Temple played a major role in protecting the lead when he drew an offensive foul on Josh Okogie with 27 seconds left. He would split two free throws, increasing the lead to five. Beasley would then miss an attempt from behind the arc, followed by two Coby White free throws to secure the win, 133-126.
What's On Tap Next
The Bulls (15-16) will turn their attention to the Phoenix Suns (20-11) who travel to the United Center on Friday night. The Suns are coming off a loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night. Devin Booker (29 points against the Hornets) will undoubtedly be playing with a chip on his shoulder for the remainder of the season after being denied a spot on the All-Star team by coaches in the Western Conference. The Suns average 113 points per game so the team will have to put forth a better defensive effort than they did tonight. Stay up-to-date on the Bulls with articles, analysis, and podcasts from Bulls On Tap.