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.”
- 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.