The Timberwolves have never really fared well against the Bulls given the respective arcs of the two franchises. Initially, the Timberwolves were in their expansion phase and the Jordan Bulls were in full-swing. Then, Jordan retired and Garnett reigned freely, and then as he left Minnesota Rose rose to prominence in Chicago. Really, it’s made for a very uneven series in the 25 years of the matchup’s history. And coming into tonight, the Bulls had swept every series since ’09 against the Timberwolves, including three straight at United Center and seven consecutive overall. Tonight, with the Bulls short Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah (Illness), the Timberwolves were in prime position to pounce.
The Timberwolves began the game jumping out to a modest lead by getting out in transition early and racking up all the easy baskets they could get. Then, halfway through the first, Nikola Pekovic went down with a sore achilles and did not return to the game. In his wake, everyone’s favorite player, Ronny Turiaf, stepped in and gave the team a much-needed boost.
Turiaf played well with the team’s backup point guards in the pick n’ roll and getting easy lobs off of those plays. When Turiaf wasn’t scrapping for points on offense, he was bringing the swat to the defensive end, too. Turiaf finished with a season high 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks and was an absolute difference maker. Thanks to Turiaf, the Timberwolves were able to coast into the second half with the lead.
While the Timberwolves never really had their lead in question, the Bulls were not going to back down that easy. Especially not a Tom Thibodeau coached team. Chicago came out, grabbed a few points off of turnovers and made Minnesota uncomfortable enough to call a quick timeout. Still, the Bulls’ offense proved to be too anemic despite the Timberwolves own offensive struggles and still led going into the fourth quarter, 72-65.
By this point, it had become clear that the Timberwolves were going to need a bit of a push to not let the Bulls hang around. Well, that sort of worked out, thanks to more steady bench contributions from Turiaf, but also Chase Budinger who finished with 12 points. The Bulls pulled close late in the game behind a DJ Augustin three, but Kevin Love would answer it on the other end with a layup off of a Rubio pass and that seemed to seal it. Actually, no. The true dagger was when Rubio came down with the defensive rebound and flipped it to Brewer streaking towards the basket and screamed, “FATALITY” (citation needed) as he emphatically dunked the ball.
Because Thibs, you continue fouling when it’s a 3-4 possession game and under a minute left, the Bulls gave the Timberwolves several freebies on the night, in part because they insisted on continuously sending Love to the line who finished 14-14 on the night. Love may have struggled with his three ball, but made up for it with his perfection from the line. Love also finished with just eight rebounds, begging the question: did he accidentally sip out of Noah’s Gatorade cup during pregame?
So, the Timberwolves break yet another streak, this time to the Bulls. Perhaps more importantly they take three of four on the road and head into a much easier portion of their schedule. In a way, tonight also had to be good for their finishing abilities in late game situations. The Bulls may have been shorthanded, but this was still a road game in a building they hadn’t performed well in and never let them back in the game. Even when Chicago would make a run, they would calmly push back the charge and continue to play their game.
Love finished with 31 points and eight rebounds and JJ Barea led the team with seven assists. Rubio played a nice, even game, finished with 9-6-4 on the night. Carlos Boozer led the way for Chicago with 20 points and 14 rebounds, while Jimmy Butler (!) and Augustin finished with 16 and 19 points, respectively.
Shorthanded team or not, the Timberwolves needed this to carry over some positive momentum into this upcoming lighter portion of their schedule. It wasn’t necessarily a guaranteed win for them, but they certainly went out and got it even when things got tough.