After the debacle against the Hawks on Friday night, the Bulls had a prime opportunity to bounce back against the league-worst Timberwolves on Sunday night. While Minny is more talented than its record and that worried me a bit, this was still a game where Chicago should have come out and made a statement. Instead, the Bulls trailed for almost the entire game and just never could get over the hump in their comeback attempt, suffering a brutal 121-117 loss to drop to 22-30 on the season.
The Bulls lost despite shooting 51.1% from the field and 15-of-38 from 3-point range. The problem? The Timberwolves shot 49.4% overall, 16-of-36 from 3-point land and a ridiculous 25-of-25 from the charity stripe. Chicago shot just 8-of-13 from the foul line, and Zach LaVine even missed a clutch free throw in the final seconds in a two-point game. The Bulls didn’t get the friendliest whistle in this game, as that free throw was LaVine’s only attempt and there was some noticeable frustration for several guys.
Chicago’s defense certainly wasn’t strong in this game, but Minnesota enjoyed some impressive shotmaking throughout most of the night after going nearly three minutes without a point to start. After the Bulls went up 7-3 early, the Timberwolves took their first lead of the game at the 7:28 mark of the opening quarter and never trailed again. D’Angelo Russell and Minny’s bench got cooking, but Daniel Theis and Lauri Markkanen jump shooting kept the Bulls in it for the first quarter.
The second quarter just saw the Timberwolves continue to score at will (14-of-14 from the line in the quarter), and they opened their biggest lead of 13 points late in the half. Russell capped off a 16-point first half with a 3-pointer to make it 66-55 going into halftime.
The Bulls finally started to get some stops early in the third quarter, which helped the margin quickly get back to just four points. But then Ricky Rubio hit a trio of 3-pointers (he went 5-of-6 from deep for the game) to completely take the air out of the visiting team, bringing that deficit right back up to 11 points. It looked like Chicago was going to fall apart when the score was 85-74 late in the third quarter with frustration peaking, but a strong close to the quarter by LaVine and a Troy Brown Jr. 3-pointer (he had three of them in a strong performance off the bench) helped make it 91-87 going into the final frame.
The Timberwolves finally started to miss some shots to start the fourth quarter, giving the Bulls an opening to overtake them. Minny even went over three minutes without a point early in the quarter. Unfortunately, Chicago’s second unit couldn’t take advantage (could argue one of LaVine or Vooch should have been out there during these minutes), and a timely Karl-Anthony Towns triple and then two free throws turned a one-point game into a six-point game midway through the fourth.
Billy Donovan returned to his starting lineup at that point before going back to Brown over the struggling Patrick Williams a few minutes later and then closing with Daniel Theis (also good off the bench) over Thaddeus Young. The Bulls just couldn’t make enough plays to secure the win. There were a few rough turnovers, with one of them coming thanks to a Timberwolves challenge after Theis’ entry pass to Nikola Vucevic barely grazed off Vooch’s hand after a Wolves deflection. Russell answered with a 3-pointer on the other end right after that to make it an eight-point game with 3:11 to go. Russell finished with 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting off the bench.
The Bulls made a couple final surges as the Timberwolves tried to give away the game, but a big KAT 3-pointer with 44.3 seconds after Chicago had cut it to three was huge. The Bulls blitzed Russell on the pick-and-roll with Brown as the primary defender and Theis as the blitzer, but this left Towns wide open and Russell found him.
LaVine then scored on two drives to the basket, only to miss that clutch free throw down two. Towns calmly made two free throws on the other end to cap off a big performance of 27 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, and LaVine’s last desperation attempt was way off.
LaVine led the Bulls with 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists, but it took him 28 shots to get those 30 points. Vucevic’s stat line of 18 points (7-of-13 shooting), five rebounds and five assists looks fine, but he was soundly outplayed by Towns and was a team-worst minus-14. The starters just weren’t all that effective in this one.
Brown and Theis were productive off the bench, with Brown going for 15 points, seven rebounds, two assists and a steal in 22 minutes and Theis recording 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals in 29 minutes after only playing 12 in Atlanta. Brown was cooked a few times defensively and racked up four fouls, but he brings energy and it was a plus to see him knock down some outside shots. He also had a timely putback in the fourth quarter right after Donovan put him in for Williams.
As for the other Bulls bench guys, Coby White also hit double figures with 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting to go along with three steals and two in 23 minutes, but he also had four fouls and three turnovers in another uneven performance. Lauri Markkanen only took four shots in 19 minutes despite making three of them, including two triples. He had one strong and-1 on a post-up, only to badly brick the free throw. He offered little else. Denzel Valentine got 12 minutes as the 10th man and shot 1-of-5 from the field and 1-of-4 from 3-point land.
This is certainly a disappointing loss for the Bulls, who now have to face the Grizzlies in Memphis on Monday night. That 10th spot is still safe with the Raptors losing to the Knicks to give it at a two-game advantage, but Chicago is now three games back of the No. 9 Pacers and four games back of the No. 8 Knicks.