2017-18 Season

Bulls 114, Wolves 113: Wolves Mess With the Bulls, Gets the Horns

On the night that Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson made their return to the United Center for the first time since their respective trades (Butler to Minnesota, Gibson to Oklahoma City last season), the Minnesota Timberwolves fells to the Chicago Bulls Friday night 114-113. The Wolves now stand at 34-24 – a 48-win pace – and in fourth place in the Western Conference. The Bulls, who entered the night in the basement of the league record-wise, now boast a record of 19-35.

Butler put on a show for the adoring Chicago crowd, posting 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and four steals, however, the luster of his overall strong game was made slightly duller by a slow start and some questionable shot selection, particularly in the fourth quarter. As he is wont to do (for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer), the former Bull turned to his “hero ball” ways and forced up some rather ill-advised shots as the Wolves’ lead dwindled in the final frame.

I find it difficult to be too critical of Butler’s shot selection, however, as he is the greatest reason, on both sides of the ball, for the Wolves’ success to this point. The Wolves walk away with the victory had Butler connected on even just one of the shots and we’d find ourselves clamoring about his “clutch gene” and/or how “the G stands for gets.”

As has been a common theme throughout the majority of the season, the Wolves’ defense, not Jimmy Butler’s shot selection, was the biggest culprit for the loss; the Wolves finished with a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 113.7. The Wolves struggled to contain Zach LaVine (more on this in a second), Robin Lopez(?), and the Bulls’ 28th ranked offense all night. The defense, which has lost the “perhaps they’re turning the corner” sheen of a month ago, looked uninspired and uninterested for the entire 48 minutes.

Gibson floundered a bit in his return, finishing with a very quiet 10 points and five rebounds in 27 minutes.

Though the night figured to be all about Taj and Jimmy, it was former Wolves’ guard Zach LaVine who was the star. LaVine, who returned to action on January 13th after sitting out 11 months while recovering from ACL reconstruction, started off slow, though his jumper and takeoffs looked as smooth and graceful as ever.

He connected on only four of his first 10 shot attempts and didn’t really turn things on until the fourth quarter. And then turn things on he did.

LaVine scored 15 points in the fourth quarter alone, including the Bulls’ final 11. LaVine relentlessly attacked, and beat, Butler throughout the final frame, including baiting the four-time All-Star into a foul during a three-point shot, which ultimately led to the Bulls taking the lead. Despite the loss, it was an utter joy to watch LaVine again. He has his flaws, but the confidence he exudes on the court remains intoxicating. The kid is going to have a lot of success in Chicago.

Fellow former Wolves’ guard Kris Dunn did not play tonight as he was sidelined with a concussion. Dunn is averaging 13.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 6.4 assists in 40 games for the Bulls.

Karl-Anthony Towns, who missed an open three (he had made his previous nine three dating back two games) as time ticked away that would’ve given the Wolves the win, contributed 14 points and 10 rebounds, his 48th double-double of the season. Andrew Wiggins, who started off white hot and cooled a bit towards the end, finished with 18 points and four rebounds. Jamal Crawford added eight points and Tyus Jones and Nemanja Bjelica each tallied seven.

Bulls’ bigs Lauri Markkanen (12 points, five rebounds), Robin Lopez (19 points), and Bobby Portis (11 points, four rebounds) all posed significant problems for the Wolves all night.

The Wolves are next in action on Sunday against the Sacramento Kings. Tip is set for 6 pm.


  • Tyus Jones played 25 minutes tonight, including the important minutes down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Jeff Teague played 23 minutes. All indications to this point don’t support it, but I wonder if Teague will be shopped during the offseason.
  • Speaking of potential offseason trade candidates: Gorgui Dieng finished with two points and six rebounds in 15 minutes. Dieng’s name was brought up semi-frequently prior to this past Thursday’s trade deadline. Dieng has been largely disappointing this season, likely due to trying to conform to a new role as well as his limited skill set. He’ll have three years, $48ish mil left on his contract once the season ends and I’m sure Tom Thibodeau and company will look to shop him during the offseason. The question is will anyone take?
  • The Wolves were the victim of at least one egregious call by the referees in the fourth quarter that ultimately contributed to them losing (though they gave up a 17-point lead to the Bulls, so it wasn’t all the refs’ fault). Tom Thibodeau was called for a technical foul when one referee confused some angry Thibs’ curse words as directed at him instead of their actual target, Karl-Anthony Towns. The Bulls made the free throw. Additionally, it was difficult to tell from the camera angle provided whether or not Butler actually did foul LaVine on the previously mentioned three-point attempt. Based on the way Butler reacted I’d guess he actually did foul him on the elbow, but the video replayed didn’t show any conclusive evidence. LaVine hit all three free throws and the Bulls took the lead and never gave it back.
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11 thoughts on “Bulls 114, Wolves 113: Wolves Mess With the Bulls, Gets the Horns

  1. Towns looked disinterested in the 2nd half. Probably because he had only taken 3 shots in the first. Doris talked about it all night. He needs to be more assertive in the post and demanding the ball, but his teammates also need to look for him more and more offense needs to be run through him. Get him involved more. You have a generational talent on your team and he’s taking 3 shots in the first half. No way that’s all on Towns not being aggressive or assertive enough.

    I’m sick of Butler going alpha dog in the 4th. I figured he would take more shots tonight because it’s his former team, but he played stupid basketball out there in the 4th. He takes really bad shots instead of looking to make the right play. I was surprised he actually passed it to Towns on that final possession. Towns had a great look, it just didn’t go. But otherwise, it was bad.. Every time he touched the ball in the 4th, I knew he was going to take some bad contested shot. He only had 1 good assist to Taj underneath in the 4th.

    The Bulls future is very bright. Did the Wolves trade away a talented young core for 2 years of moderate success? We’ll see. I don’t know about you guys, but Towns, Markenenn, Dunn, Lavigne, Rubio, and Wiggins are some young and very ultra talented players. Under the right coach, that’s potential dynasty material. Now, as we usually are as MN fans l, we are left with “what if” scenarios. I thought MN got a steal in Butler. But now that I see how this team plays, it makes me wonder if it was worth it. Yes we needed to establish a winning culture, but having a future to get excited about is good too. In retrospect from this moment now, I wouldn’t have traded for Butler. I just would’ve signed Gibson and if we were still going to trade Rubio, make a run at George Hill. I know this is very much a jump to conclusions, we just lost type thing, but Lavine, Dunn (didn’t play), and Markennen look really good.

    We continue to struggle against bottom feeding East teams. Magic, Hawks, Bulls. It’s ridiculous.

    Our defense sucks. Glad Doris called us out on it. Dead last in opponent field goal percentage. That’s a recipe for a first round exit.

    I was glad to see Tyus get to play the whole 4th. He played ok at best but wasnt a liability on D. Hard to really judge because Jimmy had the ball for about 75% of each possession in the 4th. Teague was playing absolutely terrible. He can’t make a solid entry pass. I hope he does get dealt.

    Thibs has got to go as a coach. Im sorry I’m negative about this and always say this but it’s true. He is the wrong guy for this team. He will run us into the ground. Whatever he’s preaching on D, isn’t working. How can he honestly sit back and not change our D? We aren’t really any better than when we started this year. He is misusing arguably the best big man in the NBA. He micro manages to the worst degree during the game. Nobody on that team enjoys playing for him. The game is joyless for MN. We’re supposed to be excited about us having a winning record but we are so dreary to watch. His enabling of Butler to do whatever he wants is evident.

    Hopefully we get hot going into the playoffs and this all star break brings some changes and reflection.

  2. Honestly, the #1 thing I took away from this game was being happy for LaVine. That was cool to see him play like that and win the game for his team. More on that in a minute…

    I’m not going to get into the whole Towns minutes thing this time because he was just off and in a little foul trouble (though it is fair to say his teammates’ and our system’s disinterest in getting him the ball is a nightly issue). That said, even for our alpha and a guy who can make the argument for taking the most shots on the team, 26 shots is too many. What makes our offense good is (not our system!) that we have a lot of threats. So some balance as far as attempts is healthy, and great imbalance ( 26, 14 10, 8, 8) is a sign we aren’t playing the right way. I think, more generally, why people are so concerned about our offense is this: We clearly have a lot of natural talent on that side of the ball. But nearly as clear is that the system we run, our coaching, and to some degree certain personnel (Teague) hold back our potential on offense. Thibs came in with the rep as a D guru who might struggle on O a bit, but will get a team defending well. That has not happened yet, and really there’s no sign. As Lucas notes, the sheen of them ‘turning a corner’ on D has worn off now. So what to do? Even if the D suddenly starts improving, it won’t be overnight. And it’s clearly not what comes naturally to most of our players. So, getting everything you can out of your O (which is out strength as a roster) is the fastest way to improve and the best way to win in the present. I mean giving up 114 to the Bulls kinda says it all, but given some bad shooting down the stretch, some poor offense, an inability to have a more dangerous O system meant we left quite a few obvious points out there tonight. In a perfect world, we would immediately start defending better and win more that way, because that’s what we have the most room to improve on, but I just don’t see it being that easy and simple given the situation.

    Back to Butler for a moment, he took too many shots and he took some bad ones. I will critique him on this: Just because he’s helped us get a good record right away by coming here doesn’t mean he couldn’t be doing things better. We all know all the things he can do, but knowing limitations must be on the menu. This issue stagnates us on O at many points, but is clearly magnified late, in crunch time. Thibs does nothing to correct this. Do your job?

    Honestly, both PGs looked off in this one. Usually, I would be drooling to have Tyus finish a game, but he was off and so was KAT, and Butler was hell bent on ballhoggery, so it was sort of a wash. Normally, Tyus makes a statement with minutes like that. I was very curious about him finishing the game. It makes my head spin with speculation, but tomorrow we’ll probably hear some lame thing like Teague had a sore pinky and turned and ankle slightly so got extra rest. The lamest explanation is often the real one, with Thibs.

    Hey maybe there were crickets as far as things the Wolves could have possibly done, but standing 100% pat on the deadline seems a bit cowardly given the obvious flaws with this team and a season-long lack of depth. Are we going to go after a cast off FA? Not too impressed…

    You know, I think people think Gorgui has a big skillset because he can knock down mid-ranges like it’s going out of style. At a glance that makes him look like a skilled big. You sort of assume the rebounding and basic scoring on the block, rugged D… But really, Gorgui has exactly what Lucas says, a limited skill set. At the time, I wasn’t majorly happy with the contract, but figured we had to pay it or struggle to replace rather than build. But now… it’s just a bad contract. It’s so hard to move and Gorgui isn’t improving at all. Worse, he seems unable to take advantage of the bench role. He can’t adapt to smaller minutes against 2nd string talent. So he looks even worse in the league’s eyes. Trading him will be an art form in itself if it can be done…

    You know, the Thibs tech was funny. But I wasn’t mad about it (and not just because it was so funny). I mean, you shout ultramarine blue obscenities all night, every night, you are lucky if this kind of misunderstanding doesn’t happen more. Then there is the possibility that the ref knew he was yelling at Towns but just needed to shut the guy up for a second. It’s embarrassing. I think there is a certain dignity one should try to carry themselves with, only more so if you are a leader. I heard some TV guys talking about Dray Green and his techs… basically saying that he says ‘and one’ after every single lay-up and is constantly whining to the refs and basically, even though he leads the league in techs, he should have twice as many, but for the discipline and grace of the officials. Thibs is a coach version of that. Coaches should be intense. They often get mad. But you can’t turn it up to 11 on the Spinal Tap amp every game. It has a ‘cry wolf’ effect on both your own players and the refs and simply wears down the fans.

    Bluez made some good points. Basically, I want LaVine. Man, imagine that next to Jimmy instead of Wiggins! He has flaws… Yes. I don’t like his lack of D. But that can get better. Let me put it this way. If you are the kind of player Andrew is, you darn well better defend. That needs to be a big part of what you do. If you are LaVine, it’s not so important. He’s alpha, he’s electric, he’s just got that ‘take over a game’ quality, he can shoot the hell out of three pointers, he’s so much better and faster as a slasher than Wiggins, he brings it hard every night. So much of this is never things Wiggins will be. He’s just not that kind of live wire talent. That much should be clear after what we’ve seen from him. With LaVine’s explosiveness on O, you can frankly get your D from elsewhere. Not so with Wiggins. And I’m sure LaVine will get better on D with time. He’s only 22 and missed a year in rehab. Markannen is pretty nice. In a perfect world, I would have kept Rubio and LaVine, traded Dunn (knowing what he’s done since, reluctantly) and Wiggins for Butler, and kept the pick and taken Markannen. Imagine this team with Rubio running things, LaVine as an electric SG, Butler doing his thing as a SF, and KAT and Markannen as interchangeable (each could be C or PF depending on matchups) assassin bigs. Love that. Of course this is a silly fan fantasy. Point being, we may not have made all the right moves. As a fan I really miss LaVine, even more than I expected. This was a fun game, despite the same issues plaguing us. Also, Rubio and the Jazz won yet again.

  3. It is funny that Wiggins thinks his game resembles Kobe, when Zack has always had more of that mamba assassin attitude to his game. Sadly, with Zack getting hurt last year, we will never know if Thibs would have kept Zack or Wiggins in the trade. It’s possible, that he may have traded Rubio and Wiggins to get Butler, and a team of Dunn, Tyus, Butler, Zack, Markkenen, KAT, Crawford, Taj, Belly and a bunch of money to go shopping this summer would be pretty sweet too. The musings of a Wolves fan, we always see a better option than the one the team takes. Usually because there are several.

    This game was lost because our team plays stupid basketball and thinks they don’t have to work hard to beat a bad team. All year, we have lost to terrible teams by letting them get hot from three and taking selfish shots instead of playing team offense and defense. We may make the playoffs, but winning a series is going to be harder than our current talent can handle.

    Still love Butler, but his willingness to take over games is stunting the growth of KAT and Wiggins and long term that will get us more games like last night than wins. It is critical to create balanced scoring, which is why I love Tyus over Teague running the offense. However, if Jimmy is going to be the offense, then take both of them out and put in a shooter (Marco Bellineli is now a Free Agent) who with Belly and KAT would give Butler more room to operate. It is also time to bring your number one draft pick to the big time. If he is that much of a project, then he wasn’t worth the pick and Thibs could have gotten a wing player this year and a C in another draft.

    1. Absolutely! He’s trying to make Towns Noah when he should be making Towns one of the best bigs to ever play. He’s making Towns play a game that’s not his and completely misusing him. Any person with knowledge of bball can see that. Instead of maximizing strengths, he all but writes him out of the game plan. I guarantee that if Towns were the lead shot taker and scorer of this team, we would EASILY be the 3 seed and knocking on the door of Houston and GS.

      Thibs is the absolute worst person to coach this team. He’s trying to bring back his Chicago team through our roster instead of maximizing the talent he has on this roster. A great coach adapts to his players strengths while developing them in other areas. Thibs refuses to do that and just wants Jimmy to go and win the game.

      Our defense is dead last in field goal percentage and no systematic changes are being implemented to help with that.

      Our starters play too many minutes.

      He is a bad motivator. He’s joyless. Stubborn. Unwilling to tinker with his roster.

      If I’m Towns, I want out of there. We are wasting him away.

      I couldn’t be less happy with how he’s coached this team. He needs to be fired and the only way that’s going to happen is either we miss the playoffs or lose badly in the first round. Part of me is really really really hoping that happens. I’m sorry if that’s negative but if you’re a big fan of the Wolves, there’s just no way you can be ok with the way he’s coached this team and the direction he’s taken them as far as player development and offensive/defensive philosophies.

  4. Here’s potentially another reason why Jimmy Butler may not have been the best acquisition. Like Tom said, Jimmy stunts the growth of KAT. This should be KATs team. The Wolves didn’t need an alpha dog veteran leader. They needed veteran leadership which is why I would want guys like Hill and Gibson. They’re not alpha dogs but they know what it takes to win. They could guide our young guns. With Jimmy here, it feels like it’s keeping KAT from really coming into his own and being more of a leader.

    Jimmy does a lot of great things for us and I don’t want to make it sound like us trading for him was a terrible mistake. It wasn’t. But like I said before, did we trade away a potential amazing future for a few years of moderate success? Patton is still a huge question mark. If I were going to trade for him, I would’ve done what pyrrol proposed.

    Here’s what could’ve been. Hill, Lavine, Wiggins, Towns, Gibson. Markennen and Dunn your first 2 off the bench. Markennen in a 6th man type role playing 30 min a game. That’s a legit team. Death lineup would be Hill, Towns, Lavine, Wiggins, Markennen. Dieng could still provide value. We would just need to sign a compentent backup wing or 2 in FA.

  5. It’s disgusting how unfocused this team is against the worst teams in the East. Losing to every East lottery team on the road (only have New York and possibly Philly to go!) is annoying and frustrating to watch. It seems like there’s been a trade-off where their focus is saved for tougher opponents in a way that’s mostly worked this season, but games like this are still annoying. The weak transition defense has returned and the treating of offense as though it’s a show instead of a competition seem to be the hallmarks of the game staying too close and then losing it at the end. I know it’s things like this that cause the Thibs Must Go Army of commenters to chime in in a way that’s made this site hard to visit for most of the season, but it’s a collective problem to fix.

    For all that Butler has brought to this team, “I got this” in the 4th quarter needs to be diluted further. For example, Wiggins seemed very focused when he was guarding his pal LaVine and really made things tough on him while also being aggressive offensively, and Towns wasn’t being stopped and was drawing fouls in the 4th. In those instances, a win is more important than writing a storybook ending to his return to Chicago and putting on a show for Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, and Ron Harper.

    1. Ha, if you are such a Thibs apologist that you can hardly visit this site, you’re going to be a lonely fan.

      In all honesty, I think it is a dodge to complain about this stuff above and not realize that Thibs has a huge hand in it all, and the buck ultimately stops with him. This does not let players off the hook, of course. But we have Mr. Intense, Butler, out there, and yet we are a known for losing against Eastern lottery teams… It adds up to coaching issues being part of it. Usually we need that Jimmy intensity, but as you and others noted, it can get to be too much in the 4th. But that’s who Jimmy is (and why you get him for this team). It’s the coach’s job to harness and regulate it so it doesn’t make us into a bricking Jimmy iso team in crunch time. There has been a failure of leadership in this aspect, as well.

      All that said, and I could go on and on listing bad coaching and development things that Thibs has shown this season, there are some practical issues that fans don’t naturally consider. One is the amount of turnaround this team has had in coaching in recent years. At this point, simple continuity is extremely valuable. So getting rid of Thibs is dangerous in this regard. Then, you look at the chances of Taylor dispensing with him this season, and they are nearly less than zero. So we are stuck for at least this season and likely well into next at very least. In fact, judging by past Wolves culture, we’re unlikely to rid Thibs for a long time, no matter how bad he ends up being. A bow to authority, conventional wisdom and reputation by a weak and insecure, non-creative organization. Lastly, the question of who to replace Thibs with is very tough. There aren’t obvious answers. Giving even a pedigreed young coach the keys (Walton) can be trouble, too. There might be hundreds of guys who are free and would be a better coach than Thibs but how do you find those guys out of 320 million? It’s a challenge most teams struggle with. What kind of established names are out there? Pickings are slim. If I had a time machine, I would support just keeping Mitchell over spending on Thibs, because I think that’s a wash or even Mitchell (with continuity) marginally better. But he’s not a very good coach and firing Thibs now and going back to him is a silly move no one would ever consider. If somehow it did happen, this team would look much the same. Mitchell is cut from a similar, musty, a-hole cloth. All that said, I would take a Fizzdale for Thibs swap right now. But that would still be a gamble because of all the instability it would cause. Anyhow, that’s not going to happen. Thibs is here for a while. But it’s nice to vent about the guy, too, because he’s just not that good (and plenty annoying!). There is mostly just one guy here (Bluez) saying ‘fire Thibs!’ over and over, though plenty of deserved criticism. And Bluez has good points if you look beyond the rally cry.

  6. Can’t agree more with the fact that Thibs is a terrible coach and Glen Taylor should’ve hired someone else, probably Sam Mitchell considering the improvement the team was making in his last year coaching.

    Thibs is now in his second year and there is no progress in the defense which was suppose to be his specialty and the offense is only statistically good but not because of his system or coaching. He is just relying on Jimmy Butler to do everything on offense and not involving anyone else instead of working on passing, screens, cutting to the basket, moving without the ball. There is some of it happening but then in the 4th quarter when its time to win, you can tell that its Jimmy Butler time instead of calling creative plays like a good coach is suppose to do. And it shouldn’t be that hard with Butler who can drive to the rim on anyone and pass really well to Kat or Wiggins who are great at finishing at the rim. Instead of everyone watching Butler getting blocked by Lebron, Butler could’ve easily passed the ball to Wiggins who had a huge lane to the rim. Game over!

    And then with the game on the line being down by 1 point, you are calling for a 3 point shot? A 40% chance to win!?! Instead of a high percentage closer to the basket with a chance to get fouled and make some free throws to win the game.

  7. As bad as Thibs is, I am wondering how a guy gets Layden’s “job”. What has he done since he was added to help Thibs? You are a team that has trouble hitting from behind the arc, but you don’t sign Belinelli and let the Sixers get him? I am predicting right now, that Marco will play against the Wolves and beat us up with late three point plays for another East Coast lottery loss.

    We could use some help with defensive wing play and Tony Allen is sitting out there, but it sounds like OKC and Houston are favored to get him. So Mr. Layden, what in God’s name do you do? At least we aren’t trying to get DRose, so maybe you are talking Thibs off that ledge, but what are you saving Mohammad and Aaron Brooks for?

    You choose a kid in Patton, who is now recovered from his foot injury and you have a spot for him, but you continue to play him in Des Moines. You now have a schedule that allows the team to practice, so why are you leaving him and Anthony Brown three hours away playing against nobody? If you aren’t going to add more veteran flexibility for the playoff push, why are you not bringing up two of your G League players that have some skill and meshing them for some playoff spark?

    You still have a chance to catch the Spurs and the third spot. It means you would play the worse of Portland and OKC, but they are both trying to add players and here we sit. So Layden, what do you do? Are you in charge of the draft? The halftime shows? The price of popcorn and peanuts? Outside of talking to the radio stations for extended minutes on behalf of the team, I can’t think of one thing you have done. So, if Glen wants to save money (I’m sure you are making over $500,000) Fire Layden and sign me for half the price. I’m sure I can repeat the inane Thibs post game comments to PA and Maxie and the KSTP guys.

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