Though it wasn't the romp it appeared it would be early, the Bulls ground the Timberwolves out down the stretch, winning 117-110. Observations:
More trouble out of halves
The Bulls played their game to a tee for most of the early going. Or the Timberwolves were really bad. At times, it was difficult to tell.
Regardless, Minnesota committed 12 turnovers in the first half, off which the Bulls scored 15 points, and allowed the Bulls a 38-16 advantage on points in the paint at the break. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points on 8-for-10 shooting (3-for-3 from deep), but none of his teammates had much juice.
Still, an, at one time, 19-point first half lead shrank to seven when Zach LaVine was whistled for a ticky tack 3-shot foul on Shabazz Napier at the second quarter buzzer.
Towns was then forced out of the game after picking up his fourth personal (a shooting foul on LaVine) with 8:55 left in the third quarter. After LaVine’s ensuing free throws, the Bulls led 64-56, and it appeared would have a chance to reassert themselves.
But the Wolves — even sans Towns — had different plans. Over approximately the next three game minutes, the visitors staged a 13-4 run to seize their first lead since the first quarter. Going into the fourth, the Bulls led, but only 81-79. A familiar third quarter swoon.
Teamwork made the dream work
The Bulls got contributions all around in this one. Luke Kornet poured in 15 and Cristiano Felicio (!) logged a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds (seven offensive) — neither offered a ton of resistance against Towns, but Felicio ran the floor hard and drew some good-natured cheers from the UC crowd with his six points early in the fourth. Chandler Hutchison played big minutes again and swiped three steals, and Coby White chipped in 12 impactful points.
It was an especially encouraging outing for Lauri Markkanen. He began assertive, notching 10 first-half points and four rebounds, while moving downhill better than he has in a long while. Then, in the fourth, he canned a handful of big shots when the Bulls needed them. He finished with 21 on 14 shots (still probably not enough, but won’t harp tonight). That consistency from the first and the second half hasn’t been there, and is a nice development.
The Bulls closed with a sequence of seldom-used lineups, heavily featuring an uber-small unit of Tomas Satoransky, Coby White, Kris Dunn (14 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals), Zach LaVine and Markkanen. Boylen has tried out a couple different combinations down the stretch recently with options limited.
And of course, LaVine grabbed the reins late. Even on a night that wasn’t his finest (8-for-18 shooting), he finished with 25 points. Five of those were in the last minute-and-a-half, which pushed the Bulls over the top for good. The Bulls are now 4-2 when he and Markkanen both score over 20 points.
No answer for Towns
Another skilled, bruising big roughed up the Bulls. Even without playing much of the third quarter (he ended the night with 31 minutes), Towns finished with 40 points on 16-for-24 shooting, 18 of those points coming in the fourth quarter. Whatever he wanted, he pretty much got.
What pushed the Wolves so close to a monumental comeback, though, was his teammates waking up. Andrew Wiggins answered an ugly three-point, 1-for-4 shooting, four-turnover first half with 22 in the second. Napier’s energy was also key to sparking their aforementioned third quarter run.
But the shooting shut off late. The Wolves entered the fourth 41.9% from deep, but hit only 2 of 13 long-balls in the fourth. The Bulls ground them down, shooting 37 free throws and outrebounding them 50-43, and ended up with a much-needed (albeit much-too-close) victory.
We’ll stay right here in Chicago for a struggling Kings squad this Friday.
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