Bulls overcome mistakes, put away Timberwolves in overtime

Zach LaVine led the way with 35 points as seven Bulls scored in double-figures on Wednesday night.
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Zach LaVine scored 35 points on 14-of-21 shooting, Coby White had 20 points, eight rebounds, and six assists, and the Bulls shot nearly 60% from the floor as Chicago put away the Timberwolves in overtime 133-126. Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns scored 24 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter. The Bulls improve to 15-16 and are currently sitting sixth in the East.

Billy Donovan was steaming. The turnovers, 21 of them for 23 Minnesota Timberwolves points.

"I don't really want to talk about it, but now we've got two guys with seven turnovers, so it's not fixed. It's not fixed. Now we have to talk about it," spewed Donovan, his hair looking like it was about to go to boil.

And then that disastrous end of regulation, the Bulls losing a 10-point lead with four minutes left in the game and then fouling a three-point shooter leading by three with 4.9 seconds left.

"That's probably on me," said Donovan. "I told them to foul. I think one of the officials felt like it wasn't a shot and maybe it was a pass, and one guy thought he saw him going up and they gave him three free throws. It was unfortunate."

And they allowed three players from the league's worst team to score at least 20 points in the second of a back to back in the second game with a new coach. "We just didn't get off to a great start," Donovan lamented. "They were a little more the aggressor in my opinion.

"In the totality of the game, there's things I think we can do that we can be better at," Donovan said.

Sure, disappointing.

Oh, and by the way, the Bulls defeated the Timberwolves 133-126 in overtime for their third straight win, their fifth victory in their last six games and seventh in 10 to get into a tie for fifth place the Eastern Conference, the highest the Bulls have been in the standings this late in the season in five years.

Zach LaVine dropped 35 points on 14-of-21 shooting in the victory over the Timberwolves.

Which probably wasn't even the best part of the Bulls win that was led by 35 more points from All-Star Zach LaVine, his 16th game of at least 30 this season, 20 points from Coby White, 17 points and 10 rebounds from Wendell Carter Jr. for his second consecutive double/double and seven players in double figures with Tomas Satoransky scoring 16 and Thad Young 14.

It was that this team led by Donovan isn't so much satisfied by even the respectability and competitiveness that's escaped them for several seasons. Donovan believes there's more there. And who are the rest of us to say it's not there?

"I am by no means disappointed," Donovan said in explaining his funereal post game analysis. "The one thing for me as a coach, you always try to look at a standard that you want to play to. These guys have worked really, really hard. But I don't think that we play to the level of the standard that we want to play to. We've got to build those kind of habits to be able to do that on a consistent level. 
 "These guys have put a lot of work in," the doleful Donovan acknowledged. "They've been great to work with. I've enjoyed every day with these guys. But I think part of my disappointment is I see so much more in them, and there can be so much more in them. I think a lot of times as coach when you're trying to pull more from your team, you walk off and you sit there and say, 'OK, we can play better and be better than that.' I'm happy with the win. I'm happy with the way we've fought. I'm happy with the resiliency we've showed, being in a tough situation with Rubio making three free throws and then the game going into overtime. I'm happy about that. But I still want these guys to strive for more. I don't want to have a team where it's like, 'OK, you know, this is great.' We need to strive to be better.

"I've always felt like at the end of the year when you throw everything into it, you don't want to have any regrets," the elegiac Donovan elaborated. "I think for this group, I know that we haven't won a lot and they maybe have made some strides. But I think there's more this team can do and I just feel like I need to keep pushing them and challenging them."

That's right, bring it on. Zach's got your back.

"We were upset," agreed LaVine. "I think Thad, me and Garrett (Temple) were definitely upset with the way we came out. We turned the ball over. Myself turned the ball over too many times (seven each for LaVine and White). Just too many careless mistakes. Fourth quarter it got close. I thought we closed it out. But we let them back in the game. I'm glad we got the win. You can pat yourself on the back for that. But we can play a lot better. You don't want to play down to what you can be. We have a lot of potential. We are where we are in the standings. But we can't let that dictate how we play. We have to live up to how good we can be."

Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine slams one home in the third quarter vs. Minnesota.

And for perhaps the first time in a long time you get the feeling you can start to believe them.

Sure, the Bulls are just 15-16 in a tangled Eastern Conference in a topsy turvy season with seven teams from fourth place Indiana at .500 to the Celtics and Knicks tied for ninth and 10th at two games under .500. A win or two, at least now, can determine home court for a playoff game as little as that means anymore without fans to the last play-in game spot, or worse. Atlanta is just one more game back in 11th.

"Every year I've always just wanted to make it to the playoffs," said Carter. "That's always the main goal. I feel like we have great potential to do that. I feel like we have the right personnel to do that. I feel like we have a great support system in our coaching staff. I think we can really do something great."

We've heard that before from these Bulls teams even in seasons when it didn't appear many wanted a longer season no matter what they said. This feels different. Even a game like Wednesday's against the Timberwolves when you believed in the inevitability of the Bulls as you perhaps once did even as the Timberwolves toggled between making it a game and looking like game, or quarry.

Wendell Carter Jr.

Wendell Carter Jr. blocks a shot on Timberwolves big man Naz Reid.

"I really appreciate the way they kind of rally around one other and try to lift each other," said Donovan. "Listen, 72 games, the number of games we are playing with limited time between games you are not going to be perfect every night. It's going to be a struggle, it's going to be a challenge. A bright spot we weren't playing particularly well and they kept lifting each other up and you know what, give Minnesota credit…,but overall I thought our guys had a really competitive spirit on the bench which I really appreciated."

Call it confidence or conviction if a loaf short of arrogance. The Timberwolves are 7-26 and going through yet another who knows what with mostly a poor roster. D'Angelo Russell remained out injured. Karl-Anthony Towns was back from a rough stretch with Covid and family deaths. He finished with 24 points and fouled out late in regulation, which helped deflate the Timberwolves in overtime.

It was a game these Bulls should win, but one we've seen them lose all too often. It's been the opponents who've looked at the schedule and identified the Bulls as they game they should win.

It seemed like it could be again as the Timberwolves tied the game at 119 on the bizarre three Rubio free throws with 4.9 seconds left. LaVine then spun out a potential winner at the buzzer. Superman doesn't always get the bad guys the first time.

"Thad talked to us after," revealed White. "(He said), ‘We shouldn't have been in that position. We should have put them away early. We should have came out ready to play. It shouldn't have took us going into overtime to come out ready to play and not getting stops and getting out running.' But things happen. There was nothing we could do about it at the end of regulation and we all knew that and everybody in the huddle was saying that and everybody in the huddle was like, ‘We're just going to fight in this overtime and pull out the win.' So we came out there and we fought; exactly what we did."

And the Bulls dominated.

Coby White

Coby White rises up for a transition slam during overtime against the Timberwolves.

Temple opened the overtime with a runner and then passed to Carter for a score. LaVine made a three, a 7-0 start in the first 90 seconds and that was about it. White had a slam dunk on a drive and some free throws and Young drew his12th offensive foul, second most in the league. Just jab, jab, jab, like Larry Holmes against Earnie Shavers or Gerry Cooney. Jab, jab, jab until they were down.

"You look at the standings and we're right there," said LaVine. "We have a long season to go. That's always a goal that you gotta have and strive for. But you try to go one game at a time and focus on the next one. Each one is a battle in its own."

This match was in the Bulls favor throughout even as the Timberwolves led 34-32 after the first quarter. LaVine had 10 points and the Bulls shot 70 percent to open, but White was struggling with his dribble again and the Timberwolves players were trying to make an impression on their latest coach by hammering the boards. Minnesota ended the game with 23 second chance points even as the Bulls had more rebounds.

The Bulls began to assert control in the second quarter on the way to 59 percent shooting for the game as the Bulls have begun to maintain a playing identity. It's not so much the toughness canard often thrown their way, but the ball movement, passing and unselfish play that Donovan has urged. The Bulls had 28 assists in the game, their sixth consecutive game with at least 24.

"Never satisfied," White said with a smile about Donovan. "He's been challenging us on and on again. I got the sense that it's never going to stop no matter how good we are. I love it man; everybody on the team loves it. He keeps pushing us, he keeps challenging us, each and every day, to become a better team. We still have a long way to go as a team. So he's not going to quit until we get to where we want to."

Tomas Satoransky

Tomas Satoransky and Coby White after the victory was sealed in overtime.

The Bulls took a 68-58 lead at halftime, but Towns got going for 15 in the third quarter to keep the Bulls within reach. It was 96-90 Bulls after three. The Bulls turnovers kept mounting to open the fourth quarter, but the reorganizing Timberwolves were unable to take much advantage. The Bulls led 113-103 with 4:04 left as Satoransky and Young again combined for a score, the two veterans in harmony like the Righteous Brothers. And then the Bulls seemed to have lost that lovin' feelin' with even turnovers from the veterans whom Donovan usually uses to close these days.

Still, Minnesota needed a three with 9.8 seconds left after a pair of Satoransky free throws. And they were shooting 32 percent on threes for the game. But you know what usually happens.

There's much debate in the NBA over end game situations with a three-point lead: Foul and they shoot two. With under 10 seconds and invariably out of timeouts, it's a sound strategy. Though many coaches demur, saying you could foul and if the player shoots and makes it, it could be a four-point play and loss. But how many of those last second threes do we see? Plenty, it seems. I prefer the foul route, which matters little. So does Donovan.

So he called for the foul. It looked like White got to Rubio first, but you can't do that with veterans. Either wrap their arms or foul them with their back to the basket. If not, let them shoot. Donovan was yelling for White to foul, which he did. Rubio took the hit and threw the ball toward the rim.

"He threw the ball, he didn't even shoot it," insisted White. "One ref clearly said, ‘I have him on the pass, I don't have him on the shot.' Another ref said, 'I have him on the shot.' And then I look up and they're shooting three free throws. Coach took the blame for it, but I felt like I fouled him well before the shot. He didn't even know I was fouling him. They called it five seconds later after he threw the ball. I've got to give it to Ricky Rubio; he's a smart player, crafty. So hats off. He came out of the overtime huddle smiling ‘cause he knew what happened."

But these were not defeated Bulls sunk by a mistake or a win becoming a loss.

"The thing I was really pleased with tonight with the turnovers and the way we were playing, the spirit on the bench was great," said Donovan. "The talk on the bench was great, the lifting up of each other was great. They've been terrific at that. I thought our talk on the bench going into overtime was great. So I felt pretty good we were going to compete."

The Timberwolves were quickly overmatched.

"We've gotten better as the season has gone on," Donovan said. "We've improved. I'm really proud and appreciate the work they've put in. But I still think there is more we can get out of this team."

It is what you want to hear.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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