Bulls outlast Timberwolves in double OT to land in 10th originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The good news is the Chicago Bulls moved into 10th place in the Eastern Conference play-in picture following Friday night’s 139-131 double-overtime victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The bad news is the victory came with the Bulls essentially at full strength—minus the long-term injuries to Lonzo Ball and Javonte Green—and had to play DeMar DeRozan 52 minutes and Zach LaVine over 46 minutes against a middling Timberwolves team already without Karl-Anthony Towns and that then lost Anthony Edwards to an ankle injury after just 8 minutes and Rudy Gobert to six personal fouls late.
Nothing comes easy for this Bulls team, which did make history when DeRozan, who scored 49 points, and LaVine, who added 39, combined for the most points by a duo in franchise history.
But a team that DeRozan said coming out of the All-Star break needed to treat every game like it’s a Game 7 in the playoffs essentially treated the first three quarters like the seventh game of the regular season. The Timberwolves beat the Bulls to offensive rebounds and 50-50 balls and limited the Bulls’ ability to play in transition. The Bulls played with little urgency in falling behind by 10 points after three quarters.
“From the beginning, we really let them settle in offensively,” coach Billy Donovan said. “In that first quarter, they were 7-for-11 from 3. I didn’t think we had enough physicality. We were off bodies. I think as the game wore on, we started to pick that up a little bit more.”
If that sounds like a coach following a loss, well, Donovan was just getting started.
“I give our guys credit for fighting through and staying in the game and making plays when we needed to make plays. I’m happy we won. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll always take that,” Donovan said. “My biggest thing is can we play with the defensive intensity in the first half that we had in the second half?”
Along those lines, LaVine had two very strong defensive possessions to close the fourth quarter and first overtime. He forced Kyle Anderson into a turnover at the end of regulation.
“People can talk about my defense all they want,” LaVine said. “I’ve always been one of the best on-ball defenders. One-on-one situations, there’s not a lot of people that are going to get by me.”
The Bulls shot 54.3 percent and also had a big game from Nikola Vucevic, who threw down a poster dunk that served as the dagger and finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds. They played better as the game wore on, but they also committed an 8-second violation with 46.7 seconds left in regulation while trailing by two. Donovan said LaVine and DeRozan, who both handled the ball and walked it up, wanted to get the floor balanced and organized and spaced before they crossed midcourt because the Timberwolves had been trapping.
Still, it’s a violation you don’t see every day, particularly at such a crucial time.
“We’ve got to be better there, no question,” Donovan said.
DeRozan was even harsher on himself.
“I made a dumb-ass play,” he said. “I’m still upset.”
DeRozan redeemed himself with an incredibly difficult left-handed, driving layup over Gobert with 20.8 seconds left that helped force overtime. Perhaps that basket can be symbolic of a Bulls team that keeps pushing for this play-in.
But so could that 8-second violation, a team that doesn’t always seem to play with the proper sense of urgency. After all, the Bulls have lost six games this season after leading by 16 points or more.
Saturday night poses a challenging back-to-back against a Miami Heat team that sat in Chicago Friday night while the Bulls’ stars’ minutes kept climbing. DeRozan will be ready.
“I hoop all summer for free,” he said. “Why not do it when you’re getting paid for it? I’m looking forward to it.”
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