The Bulls have just won their 6th straight game, and by the looks of their schedule could be riding a 10-game winning streak heading into the playoffs. This one against the Timberwolves looked to be the toughest remaining contest on paper, but a few factors broke in their favor: The Wolves had played the night before, were without several rotation players, and had already been mathematically eliminated (get in the Eastern Conference, fellas!).
Then again, the Bulls are playing so well the Wolves needed all that to reverse and probably a lot more to take this game. The Bulls were down 5 heading into the half but had a dominant 54-34 second half to win this game comfortably.
The stars of the game were their three point guards:, DJ Augustin, and Joakim Noah. Noah had yet another triple-double, and a couple late jumpers raised his overall line to 15 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. Noah's assists mark for the season is now a franchise record for a center. Augustin and Hinrich had fewer assists combined than the point-Center, but they shot extremely well on their way to 37 combined points. They were often the beneficiaries of a Noah pass, as the Wolves were frequently caught off-guard by the Bulls player movement, leading to some easy layups for the offense.
The Bulls also were very proficient from the three point line again. Augustin was 4-7 (he is beyond getting ridiculous at this point, 16/31 - 51.6% - for the 4 games this month), Hinrich (freshly shaven!) was 2-4, Butler was 3-6, and Dunleavy was 2-4.
That shooting was more sorely required in the first half, as the Wolves made a nice showing for themselves behind Ricky Rubio. Rubio was often the culprit for those Bulls layups on the other end, but when he had the ball he was getting nearly everywhere he wanted, with 13 points and 4 assists in that half. Unfortunately for them, Kevin Love started out awfully and didn't get much better throughout the game. Love began game 0-4 on jumpers, and then got his elbow awkwardly struck by his own teammate. It looked scary, and while Love ultimately stayed in the game, his shooting didn't get much better as he finished 7-20 (2-8 from three) for a meager double-double of 17 and 10 in over 32 minutes.
Minnesota's role players picked up the slack in the first half, and a couple had nice showings for themselves: Gorgui Dieng (noted draft contemporary of Tony Snell) often had trouble offensively but was impressively active around the rim and was credited with 3 blocks. Corey Brewer had his brand of over-agressive defense as well and had 4 steals. Ronny Turiaf and Dante Cunningham helped the Wolves bench hold their own in that first half, and at one point they built a 9 point lead after Love came back in.
But in the 2nd half, after the Bulls had started to build a lead, their bench couldn't re-duplicate the feat, whereas Taj Gibson rebounded from a frustrating first half (he was majorly stuffed by Turiaf on one attempt) with a 4-7 shooting performance in the 2nd (though he missed a breakaway dunk, he also got Turiaf back.) and the guards kept hitting their shots (Hinrich was 4-4 in the 2nd half). Meanwhile, the Bulls tightened up defensively as they had their closing lineup in for literally the entire 4th quarter (outside of the Dunleavy/Hinrich swap they do...crimeny...the Bulls are one of the hottest teams in basketball with a DJ Augustin and Kirk Hinrich backcourt closing every game...), so when Love and Rubio returned at the 7 minute mark they were already down 10. They exited a few minutes later as their team's deficit only grew, but Noah/Gibson/Butler stayed in because the Bulls have been doing a full-tilt playoff rotation (plus a dash of Thibs craziness in blowouts) for months now.
But hey, we needed this game more than they do (for real, not in the usual Thibsian way), as the Raptors also won Wednesday night, and the race for the 3rd seed remains with Bulls holding a losing tiebreaker.