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.
Thanks for the memories, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson! pic.twitter.com/fIH6NudGdD
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) February 10, 2018
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.