Game Notes: Wolves at Bulls
The Bulls get a much needed victory.
by Bryan Crawford
The last time I saw the Chicago Bulls win an NBA basketball game in person was when they beat the Golden State Warriors two weeks before Christmas at the United Center. After not going to any Bulls home games for exactly four weeks, I finally decided to take in my first game of 2010 and watch them play the Minnesota Timberwolves. I figured if there was one game that they could play to break their three-game losing streak and if there was one game that I could go to and actually see them win, it was this one. The Bulls may be bad, but the Timberwolves are much worse.
Saturday night’s game would be a back-to-back for both teams as the Bulls lost a heartbreaker on the road to the Milwaukee Bucks the night before; a game in which they could have and should have won. The Timberwolves were coming off a victory against the Pacers at home in Minneapolis on Friday night in which both Al Jefferson and Kevin Love had MONSTER games. Big Al put up 25 points and 12 rebounds and Kev Love had 18 points and 13 rebounds. After looking at those stats during pre-game shootaround, I couldn’t help but feel a little worried considering the Bulls were on a slide. When a team has two guys combine for 43 points and 25 rebounds, they’re usually pretty tough to beat. But as is the case in the NBA—and as Minnesota would find out rather quickly—the second game of a back-to-back where the contest is on the road is pretty tough to win.
I ventured into the Bulls locker room to wish some of the guys that I’m cool with on the team a Happy New Year since I hadn’t seen them in a while. When I walked in the only people there was Aaron Gray who was watching film on Minnesota, Tyrus Thomas who’d just completed his pre-game shootaround and was icing his ankle, and Derrick Rose who was casually talking to another reporter.
I made my way over to Tyrus and asked him about his ankle and he said that it was no big deal, just a tweak. I asked him if he was going to play and he said that he’d already sat out seven weeks so he wasn’t going to let something small like that stop him from going.
I then went over to Derrick’s locker and we talked about how fast the season was moving and he said that he couldn’t believe it. We also talked about him defending his Skills Challenge title at All-Star Weekend in Dallas. We all remember his between-the-legs, backwards dunk that he threw down last year, so I suggested a windmill dunk this time around. He just laughed and shrugged his shoulders and said, “If I’m feeling good.” I can’t wait to see if he’ll actually do it or not and I’ll definitely be in his ear about it, believe that.
The TWolves got off to a fast start and it looked as if they were trying to put the Bulls away early. At one point Minnesota led Chicago 14-4 as both Al Jefferson and Kevin Love established themselves down low scoring 12 of the team’s 16 points in the paint. They also shot the ball well from the field as a team in the quarter going 14-25 (56 percent). The Bulls also played a decent quarter of basketball. After being down 10 points early, they managed to battle back and within two minutes had shaved 9 points off of Minnesota’s lead. They shot the ball well (11-22 from the field) but they also committed 5 turnovers. Fortunately for them, Minnesota couldn’t capitalize as they scored only 4 points on Chicago’s giveaways. Minnesota leads 32-28 at the end of one.
Minnesota played well for the first two minutes of the second quarter and all of a sudden, things just went downhill. The momentum of the game seemed to change on James Johnson’s driving dunk in the lane in those first two minutes and Minnesota then went on to play the worst quarter of basketball that I’ve ever seen from an NBA team live and in person. Of the 20 field goal shots attempted by the 10 guys that head coach Kurt Rambis played in the quarter, only four made shots. Of those four, three of them only made one basket and Jonny Flynn made two. They finished the quarter an awful 5-20 (25 percent) from the field.
Chicago, on the other hand, took the same number of shots as Minnesota did and only made five more than their counterparts, but the difference was the energy that they displayed on the defensive side of the ball which led to Minnesota’s offensive woes. They made it tough for the Timberwolves to get anything going as they harassed them on defense and forced them into committing 7 turnovers in the quarter, 5 of those coming off steals. Derrick Rose didn’t take a single shot in his six and a half minutes on the floor and by halftime (from a scoring perspective) he’d actually been outplayed by Flynn who went into the half with 10 points to Rose’s 4 points. Bulls led, 52-46.
The Timberwolves continued to shoot the ball poorly going 8-23 (35 percent) from the field while the Bulls continued to shoot the ball well and got balanced production from their starters and their bench players. Only six Timberwolves players made shots in the quarter and only Ryan Gomes made more than one (3). The game was pretty much over at this point as the Bulls capitalized on Minnesota’s shooting struggles and outscored them 27-18 in the quarter. At the end of three, the Bulls lead 79-64.
Minnesota’s shooting finally improved (10-18 from the field, 56 percent) and they actually outscored Chicago 32-31 in the quarter but it was too little too late as the Bulls held a 20-point lead twice and never let their lead slip below 14 points. Once the Bulls cracked the century mark with about four minutes left in the game and the United Center crowd went crazy because they would all be able to get free Big Macs from McDonald’s, I stopped watching and made my way to the press room to catch the last of the Cowboys/Eagles game. Not surprisingly, a good majority of the media in attendance did the same thing. Final score, 110-96, Bulls.