The mystery Friday at the close of the Bulls 114-113 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves was that the Butler didn’t do it. It was Zach LaVine.
The Bulls shooting guard obtained from the Timberwolves in the Butler trade last year scored 35 points in a stretch shootout with the former Bull, Butler, who had 38 points. The clinching points came from three LaVine free throws with 18.4 seconds left after he was fouled by Butler. Butler then missed a winner at the buzzer.
The Bulls broke their seven game losing streak and are 19-35. Minnesota is 34-24.
The Bulls got 19 points from Robin Lopez, 14 points and 11 assists from Jerian Grant, 12 points each from Justin Holiday and Lauri Markkanen and 11 points off the beach from Bobby Portis. Taj Gibson added 10 points for Minnesota.
Butler was introduced first for the Timberwolves and got a nice ovation, and then Gibson’s seemed even louder. Then at 6:47 of the first quarter, the Bulls showed a video board tribute to Butler and Gibson. Both got a standing ovation and saluted the fans after the video concluded. Butler clearly was intense about the game, shooting quickly early and two of six in the first quarter. Butler also declined to meet with media pregame while both Gibson and coach Tom Thibodeau spent long sessions with Chicago media before the game. The Bulls starters with Lopez scoring 11 points effectively held off the Timberwolves in the first quarter and led 30-27 after one. Lopez took advantage of mismatches on switches to score inside while Grant’s shot looked good for seven points. The Bulls shot 52 percent in the quarter with LaVine throwing in a highlight dunk on a drive. Markkanen hit his first shot, a three, but the Bulls again had trouble finding him enough. The Timberwolves began to break away in the second quarter with Paul Zipser moved out of the way on offensive rebounds on three straight possessions by Nemanja Bjelica. That enabled the Timberwolves to take a 41-37 lead and then Butler got it going with four consecutive Minnesota scores for a 50-40 Timberwolves lead with 4:51 left in the first half. The Bulls came out of a timeout going to Markkanen, who passed well out of a double team for a Grant score. LaVine then made a pair of mid range pull-ups and was fouled on a putback for free throws. But it was just enough to match Butler, who had 14 in the quarter. Butler closed the first half with a long three pointer and a pose held with three tenths of a second left after Bulls free throws with three second left to give Minnesota a 67-56 halftime lead.’
Butler continued to remind fans with a three to open the second half as the Timberwolves began to demonstrate too many offensive options for the Bulls with Andrew Wiggins’ runners, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jeff Teague penetrating for scores. Minnesota took a 78-64 lead, but then the Bulls finally began to find Markkanen and the Bulls ran off nine straight points to get within 78-75 on a Markkanen switch hands driving score. The Bulls made it 24-7 overall to tie the game at 80 before a Denzel Valentine follow at the buzzer on a LaVine miss gave the Bulls an 89-86 lead entering the fourth quarter. The Timberwolves applied the pressure to start the fourth quarter and the Bulls withered with five consecutive empty possessions to open the quarter as Minnesota moved out 94-89. Bobby Portis ended the dry run with a putback. The officials apparently mistook Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau yelling at Towns and gave Thibpdeau a technical foul. Then Jamal Crawford put in a three to keep Minnesota ahead 101-95 with seven minutes left. But the Bulls wouldn’t back off, forcing Butler into a driving miss and a Portis block on Towns. That enabled the Bulls with a pair of tough LaVine scores against Butler to get within 105-103 with 4:41 left in the game. Butler then put his head down and drew four free throws and LaVine came back with a pair. But Gibson scored on a Butler drive and pass for a 111-106 Minnesota lead with 1:20 left. But the Bulls answered out of the timeout with a driving LaVine dunk and a three from LaVine after a Minnesota miss to tie there game at 111 with 40.6 seconds left. Butler then answered with a short bank from the left side after circling in from the right and under the basket. And then Butler fouled LaVine on a three attempt with 18.4 seconds left in the game. LaVine made all three for a 114-113 Bulls lead.