Wolves 117, Bulls 89: Minnesota-Chicago Part ‘Deau

(AP Photo/Hannah Foslien)

The Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Chicago Bulls Sunday afternoon by the score of 117-89, sweeping the season series 2-0. The visiting Bulls’ forces were weakened due to a bought with the injury bug; stars Jimmy Butler (heel) and Dwyane Wade (wrists), as well as role players Nikola Mirotic (back spasms) and Paul Zipser (food poising), were all unavailable to play.

The Wolves jumped out to an early 19-5 lead behind aggressive play and focused tenacity and never looked back; their lead never again fell below 11 points. “We came out with an edge,” Andrew Wiggins said after the game. “We needed this game. Everyone came out aggressive. We shared the ball, we were grabbing rebounds. We were the aggressor early.”

Wiggins lead the charge, finishing with 27 points, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals; it was the 10th time this season he has tallied at least five rebounds and three assists in the same game (arbitrary amounts I deemed to be adequate “box score filling”), putting him one behind last season’s total and eight behind his rookie season. (It should be noted, however, that Wiggins played without Karl-Anthony Towns and (mostly) Ricky Rubio during his rookie campaign, so naturally he grabbed more rebounds and tallied more assists as there were more available opportunities to get them).

A seemingly pleased Tom Thibodeau said post-game when asked about the Wolves’ performance, “I thought Ricky played really well. I thought we got a lot of good performances from different people. I thought [Nemanja Bjelica played] one of his better games; he got going. [Gorgui Dieng] was terrific; his effort inside was big for us. I thought Karl and Wigg were very good because they were getting double-teamed a lot and they weren’t fighting it. They got the ball out and we got good shots off that. I think they’ve grown from that standpoint.”

Rubio not only played well Sunday afternoon (17 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, and two steals), but has been playing extremely well and aggressively over the last 10 games. During that time span, Rubio is shooting 41.2% (3.4 attempts per game) from three and is averaging 13.5 points, 9.5 assists, and 2.9 rebounds per game; he’s also posting an effective field goal percentage of 50.0% and a true shooting percentage of 56.9%.

Rubio’s recent fearlessness when it comes to attacking and getting his shot and the success that has come with it has been a welcome surprise for the Wolves. Opposing teams suddenly need to respect his ability to knock down open shots on a regular basis, which opens up a whole host of options for the Wolves offense. The lane is less clogged for Towns and Wiggins to get to the hoop and defensive rotations are slower allowing for more open shots for the likes of Wiggins, Rush, and Shabazz Muhammad; essentially, the Wolves’ offense becomes a great deal more dangerous and explosive when Rubio is playing aggressively and knocking down shots.

When asked after the game if beating the Bulls means more than other victories, Thibodeau said, “No [chuckles]…It’s always hard when you’ve been through things with people. I really root for that team, those guys, particularly the ones in which I’ve coached before and I want them to do well except for when we play against them. [Chicago is] a great basketball city, [the Bulls are] a great organization. I had five great years there. I pull for them when they’re not playing against us.”

However, per ESPN’s Nick Friedell, Bulls power forward Taj Gibson thinks otherwise. When asked if beating the Bulls means a lot to Thibodeau, Gibson said, “Oh, without a doubt. I know him too well. When most people think it’s not a big deal, it’s a big deal to him. You see he kept coaching the whole game. He even left some of the guys in late. I can see his hand shaking from all the way on our end. I know he really wanted to win that game. Nothing’s going to change. He’s going to be the same guy every day.”

Notes:

  • Six of the 11 Wolves that appeared in Sunday’s game scored double-digit points. In total, the Wolves tallied 27 assists and out-rebounded the Bulls 46-35.
  • Nemanja Bjelica played on of his better games in recent memory, posting 16 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals, and one block.
  • Bobby Portis and Doug McDermott each scored 16 points, which lead the Bulls.
  • Lance Stephenson played 14 minutes, scored six points, and had a plus/minus of +10. His 10-day contract is set to expire over the All-Star break, but he will almost assuredly receive another. He brings an attitude (particularly on defense) and playmaking ability that is desperately needed on the bench. As long as he is on a 10-day contract or a non-guaranteed deal, I think he may just be a good fit on the Wolves. However, as Bill pointed out, his history with domestic violence cannot and should not be overshadowed and I wonder what may happen if he is ever given a multi-year deal. Bill summed up my feelings on Lance Stephenson pretty much perfectly, so I’ll just leave it at that and encourage you to read what he said here.
  • Despite playing pretty solid defense overall, the Wolves allowed the Bulls to shoot 10/25 from three.
  • The Wolves continue their homestand against the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday evening. Kevin Love has already been ruled out. Tip is set for 7 p.m.
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4 Responsesso far.

  1. Jello says:

    Not much to say about this game. They looked like they should have. Good to see they care enough about Thibs to get motivated to beat up on his old team. Overall, though, it’s just a team doing what they should do which isn’t something all that exciting. Hopefully the Wolves can “do what they should” more often.

  2. Tom says:

    I would have liked to have seen more of Tyus and the bench with such a limited Bulls team. I also would have liked to see Thibs challenge KAT with playing Lopez instead of Gibson on D. He needs to be able to match up with the bigs in this conference. Seems like every team but GS has a guy that will push our front court around.

    Ricky played well against some bad guard play, which reinforces my belief that Ricky should be the PG until someone moves him to the back up role. As a back-up, he would be a great leader and instigator for what will eventually be rookies, limited vets and maybe Ghorgi on a playoff Wolves team. If we could trade Dunn, for a solid veteran Center and a first round pick before the league realizes that he isn’t going to be anything special (Some GM’s thought he was going to ROY, find them and trade him to them now!)

    The trade of Plumlee to Denver, hurts our chances with Portland games coming up. Having a large big like Nurkic and hustlers like Crabbe and Harkless is going to make it hard for the wolves to surpass them or even Denver with Plumlee and Jokic playing off each other for the eighth seed.

    Hopefully, our team will make Cleveland work for a win on Tuesday. Wiggins has had great games against LeBron, no Love and Kyrie now has Lance and Ricky to work against. They should give it a great effort to rinse out the whupping they got in Cleveland.

  3. pyrrol says:

    This was an encouraging game, but the question with this team always seems to be if games like this are a step in the right direction or a random moment of competence. Recently, we have not seemed to learn from games like this. All the things we were doing to win this game can be applied to any game, but we tend to look like a completely different team game to game, mostly in disarray. But a game like this shows our potential if we get that disarray under control.

    Wiggins had a really good game. This is how we want him to play, and frankly, he has the talent to play like this every night. Does he have the will? He rebounded well, was disruptive on D at times, passed willingly out of double teams or if someone was wide open for an easy shot, and limited his bad shots to some degree. He scored with ease and efficiently. He took it to the hoop a lot and drew fouls. He finished strong, not lazy.

    Now if we could just find him a proper excuse to play like this in every game. We should hire someone to come up with a special grudge for Andrew for each game. Obviously, the excuse in this one was playing Thibs’ old team and wanting to show them up. Nice that Andrew and the guys want to win for their coach. Kind of odd… but the guys really show up against Chicago in these games. It helps that they aren’t that good and had guys out (why are both Wade’s wrists sore?).

    Rubio is just ballin’. That bowed out english pass was something else. When Zach went down, it seems that Rubio, was the one that said, ‘I need to pick up some of that slack.’ The other guys are just doing their thing, but Rubio has been much more aggressive trying to score. Granted, Rubio’s scoring boom started somewhat before Zach went down, but Rubio has been filling in for the missed scoring more than anyone. He’s also defending well, running the offense well, passing great and coming up with impressive hustle ‘how’d he do that’ kind of plays. A theory behind why we want Rubio scoring more is that it unclogs the floor because people can’t sag way off him. But I think, while a logical thought, that what we saw in this game was more Andrew and Karl passing out of D collapses and doubles better than they have been. Rubio’s shooting doesn’t seem to have unclogged things, but it adds another weapon to keep our O going, rather than sputtering.

    It was funny to see Rubio sag off Rondo like people always talk about sagging off of him. Rubio didn’t get burned for it by passing or shooting…

    I hope this gets Bjelica going.

    I like what Lance has brought and agree with Jim Pete that he should overlap a bit more with the starters—learn ’em some grit.

    Dunn is just bad. Will he always be bad? Probably. Even Derrick Williams and Wes Johnson has good games or ‘showed flashes’. But they aren’t good and never became good. In a way, they looked better than Dunn does at that point in their careers. I know it’s a flimsy analogy, but I’d be all for dumping Dunn while some people have not yet caught on to the new, lower expectations for the guy. The value of the ‘idea of Dunn’ is higher than the actual value of the player at this point. We could still get good return for the guy. Never going to happen. Thibs would never admit he was wrong in such an, early, public manner.

    But I don’t want to be negative. I hope Dunn gets a whole lot better. He seems like a cool guy. And I hope the team really learns from this win. And I hope the coaching staff can appreciate the good things we have right now as well as effectively point out the things we did to win this game and how to do them in every game. Even if we play every game like we did against the Bulls (consistency has been almost totally lacking in this team) we will have our share of problems. We still had some D issues in this game and it was covered up by how red hot our O was and how bad the Bulls played.

  4. Tom says:

    Thibs job is to put this team on the path to a championship. When McHale saw that Donyell Marshall was not a hard worker, he shipped him out before anyone else got that same idea and got Googs in return. Now Donyell was and maybe Kris will be good players, but McHale did the hard thing right away and that maximized his trade value.

    If Thibs has loyalty for his picks, good or bad over making the team better, Glen should ask him to resign. I liked Pyrrol’s analogy of Derrick Williams and Wes Johnson having flashes and yet never being as good as their draft selection would hope to produce. Both of those players were mentioned on draft night as the most NBA ready of their draft. Dunn was labeled a ROY candidate. Doesn’t mean that Dunn is a bust, because he could have a successful career in the league, just like many of the wolves first round picks (Randy Foye, Wes and Derrick, Corey Brewer, even Wayne Ellington) have all stayed in the league long enough to have a good NBA career.) Kris will not be a bust like Johnny Flynn, but I think when you look at his impact versus Rubio’s rookie season impact, it is obvious that he will have to improve greatly to be more than a journeyman.

    Thibs should listen to all trade offers (even for Wiggins and KAT) if it can improve the chances of this team making a championship run. No one would think he failed for taking a player that was high on people’s boards and trading him for an asset that helps the team make a LaVine like leap up the standings. He would only be viewed as a failure if what he got back in return was a disaster financially or team chemistry wise. When you haven’t made the playoffs for a generation, you should look at all players as assets to be kept or traded to fit your team design, not as unmoveable building blocks.

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