Despite Lauri Markkanen's return (13 points on 6-10 shooting) and Coby White staying hot (26 points), the Bulls fell to the Timberwolves on Wednesday night 115-108.
The Bulls may not, after all, be better without Zach LaVine.
That's because following the heady victory Monday over the Dallas Mavericks when the high scoring LaVine missed his first game of the season, the Bulls went to Minneapolis Wednesday and adapted. They went cold, losing 115-108 to the revamped Minnesota Timberwolves of Josh, Juancho, Jarrett, Jake, Jalen and James with a Naz and a Kelan. If this wasn't the same Timberwolves team the Bulls defeated in Chicago a few months ago, it also wasn't the same Bulls team that dumped Dallas.
Coby White was terrific again, coming off the bench for 26 points and a team high six assists with some sharp forward passing for scores.
"He's playing his butt off right now and we all have to help him," said Lauri Markkanen. "He's carrying a big load right now. Hats off to him. He's playing at a really high level and hopefully he can keep it up."
Chuck Swirsky with BullsTV recaps tonight's loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves
Markkanen, as well, who returned Wednesday after missing six weeks with a pelvic injury. Markkanen had a steady 13 points and four rebounds in a limited 20 minutes.
"I felt pretty good," said Markkanen, who showed his versatility with a long three, scores off the run and postups on mismatches. Just (wanted to show) that I can do multiple things and not just be a spotup shooter. Of course, your body has not been running out there in six weeks. With it being the first game back, you might start thinking a little bit in the beginning, so in that second quarter I just went out there and played, started moving. I tried to get to the rim and get a couple of easy ones. Just try to be aggressive and get down the lane and a get a couple of postups. I think it was a good direction."
Otto Porter Jr., who returned Monday from missing most of the season with a broken foot, predictably cooled off from his fast start with two points on one of eight shooting. Shaquille Harrison, still in the starting lineup, had his season best game with 17 points and converted a trio of three pointers. He also had three steals and had only made eight threes all season. Thaddeus Young added 13 points and three more steals, and Ryan Arcidiacono had two steals late in the game as the Bulls hustled a 14-point deficit with three minutes left to within 113-108 with 1:08 left.
But the Timberwolves held on thanks to a pair of crucial offensive rebounds in the last minute to extend possessions.
Shaq Harrison had a season-high 17 points against Dallas.
That apparently inspired a rare postgame rebuke from Bulls coach Jim Boylen that seemed more motivational. It seemed like the sort of post game lecture Boylen's former boss, Gregg Popovich, would deliver after a frustrating loss.
"They got 25 percent of the rebounds back," Boylen said, beginning his censure before being asked questions. "That's too many. Can't happen, can't happen. I challenged our group. We've got to be tougher, we've got to be more competitive in those moments when there's 50/50 balls in the air; we've got to do a better job. I don't care who's coming back, I don't care who's been out, who's working on a minutes restriction. I didn't think we were tough tonight and I didn't like it. I didn't like it.
"Can't let them shoot 50 percent and then not rebound the ball," Boylen continued. "You can't do that and I didn't like it. I understand what we are operating under and it's difficult on the group, but we have to be tougher. When you do play your minutes you have to play them with more physicality. Guys have been out a long time; I get it. But it's not who we're going to be. I want us to play our minutes with more force and more energy. When you've been out and you come back, the speed of the game is tough. What I'm talking about —and it's not negativity, I'm coaching this team—is you have to play your minutes with force whether you haven't played in two months. Play hard, compete, rebound the ball. That's all I'm taking about."
It's not a particularly argumentative group, so Young didn't object.
"The message has always been loud and clear," the veteran Young said. "We have to go out there and be tough; we have to play Bulls basketball. We have to play better. The mission is always the same, go out there and be tough and try to win the game. Tonight there were a lot of crucial plays where we didn't get stops or the rebounds we needed. "There are some instances where we can be tough," Young added. "The outcome of this game, it is what it is. We just have to get more rebounds and in crucial points of the game, we have to get those stops. It's all about giving those extra efforts."
Coby White scored 26 points against the Dallas Mavericks.
Though it's actually difficult to find too much fault with the Bulls in this game, especially with LaVine still out. There were some nonsensical murmurs following the Dallas victory about the team playing better without LaVine. It's asinine, of course, though LaVine hardly was rooting for defeat. He remains one of the more supportive teammates among a good group.
The Bulls clearly missed his big shot ability, especially in the third quarter when the Timberwolves retained control of a mostly Bulls-dominated first half with a 14-4 opening that gave the Timberwolves a lead.
Boylen got White in off the bench with eight minutes left in the third. But a 58-55 Bulls halftime lead had become a 67-61 Minnesota edge and the Bulls never would get a lead again. Minnesota, 19-42, went ahead 88-79 after three quarters on its three-point shooting (19 of 43 for the game), and surged ahead 106-93 with 5:50 left before the Bulls gave them that one last scare.
Minnesota turned over half its roster with recent trades. It was led by Malik Beasley with 24 points. D'Angelo Russell had 19, Naz Reid had 16 and Juancho Hernangomez had 12. The Bulls dropped to 21-41.
It was Hernangomez in on the biggest play, which probably led to Boylen's frustration.
The Bulls actually seemed to outwork the Timberwolves throughout the game. The Bulls got more than twice as many steals and forced 19 turnovers, almost double Minnesota's total, for 23 points. The Bulls scored more inside points and the offensive rebounds were in the Bulls favor until the last minute.
The Bulls were scrambling and again not giving in or giving up with Minnesota taking a 113-99 lead with under three minutes left.
Lauri Markkanen had 13 points in his first game since January.
First Arcidiacono stole a dribble from Josh Okogie. Arcidiacono then missed a three as the Bulls were 11 of 30 from long distance. Former Bull James Johnson then tried to split Young and Harrison and lost the ball, Young hitting Tomas Satoransky for a dunk. Coming out of a timeout, the Bulls overplayed Minnesota's inbounds and forced another turnover, the third in 32 seconds. White made a tough baseline drive for a layup to make it 113-103.
Minnesota's Jordan McLaughlin missed a three. The Bulls rushed the ball upcourt for an Arcidiacono three. The Timberwolves inbounded to McLaughlin. White and Arcidiacono surrounded him and dug out the ball for yet another Minnesota turnover. It rolled to Harrison, who made a short runner to get the Bulls within six with just over a minute left, the Bulls with nine points in less than a minute.
Not unlike when the Bulls almost gave away an eight-point lead to the Mavericks in the last 25 seconds Monday. C'mon, who says these are not exciting games!
Russell missed a long three with 49.4 seconds left. But Hernangomez tipped the ball back to Okogie. The Bulls had to foul and Beasley made both.
White missed a three out of a timeout, but Satoransky hustled for the offensive rebound. Falling out of bounds, he passed back to Denzel Valentine for a three that missed. The ball went out of bounds. The Bulls fouled McLaughlin, who missed both. But Hernangomez again tipped back the second miss to effectively end the game.
There were opportunities, of course, but it's difficult to fault the Bulls since they had four guards and Young playing center on the floor during those last possessions. LaVine, the best rebounding guard, was out with his quad strain. Markkanen, Porter and Carter were on the bench, presumably having reached their playing time limits with all recently back from long injury absences. Though as we know it's a no excuses league.
Coby White goes for a layup against Dallas.
"I was concerned about their three-point shooting before the game. I thought it was the difference in the game," said Boylen. "We didn't make enough plays at the offensive end. When they were in transition, they had us on our heels where they were hard to guard. They got layups and threes."
The Timberwolves are one of the better three-point shooting teams in the league, sixth in makes. The Bulls are not a good three-point shooting team, ninth in attempts but 13th in makes. Their percentage is in the bottom third. Without LaVine, it becomes more problematic.
The Bulls did start well with a 29-22 first quarter lead, 20 points coming from the reserves with White, Young and Porter off the bench. White was hot again with nine points in the first. Minnesota got threes in its first three second quarter possessions to close. Markkanen got going in the second quarter with eight points, six in three consecutive possessions. The Bulls got back ahead. The Bulls' weak third quarter start with Minnesota hitting on back door cuts and working the ball for open threes left the Bulls fighting back again. White's nine fourth quarter points and the hustle was not quite enough to offset those last few tips and taps and pittie pats.
"We'll see (how they respond)," said Boylen. "They know. Our guys are good guys."