Playing in a rare home-and-home back-to-back, the Wolves didn’t have enough legs to combat the Chicago Bulls’ shutdown defense and struggled to score consistently in a 102-87 loss.
After a good first half that saw Ricky Rubio post an easy 13 points and the Wolves’ lead expand to as many as nine points in the second quarter before taking a 53-48 lead into halftime.
At halftime, however defensive wizard Tom Thibideau identified the need to funnel the Wolves’ high screen-and-roll to the baseline and deny Kevin Love the ball in the high post at all costs. It’s unclear if this was originally part of the game plan and just wasn’t adequately executed by Thibs’ players, but it surely worked in the second half.
The ever-obnoxious Joakim Noah did a great job checking the Wolves’ big men, and Gorgui Dieng struggled with the physicality of Noah, Taj Gibson, and even Carlos Boozer in the paint. Love seemed a bit off for most of the game in general, and was in obvious pain after getting his arm caught between Corey Brewer and a Chicago player in the first quarter. Without an official report, it appeared to be some kind of a funny bone-related injury, and Love eventually returned late in the first half.
Ultimately, he shot just 7 of 20 on the night, scoring 17 points and pulling down 10 rebounds in 33 minutes. The Bulls’ defense was simply too good, and the lack of an inside threat to keep the Bulls’ big men honest and away from pinching the guards to the baseline, it was too easy. Nikola Pekovic would have made a big difference tonight.
Defensively, the Wolves were okay, but the Bulls managed to have one of their best shooting nights of the season from long range, draining 11 of 21 shots (52.4%) when it was all said and done. Brewer’s gambling tendencies were on full display again, and his 4 steals absolutely kick-started the Wolves’ fast break offense. They also harmed the overall team defense, of course, and undermined the perimeter rotations.
Rubio had issues fighting through Noah’s (mostly illegal) screens, and the Bulls, Garnett-style way of setting picks didn’t start getting called until the final couple of minutes when the game was already in hand. D.J. Augustin was out of his mind from deep, hitting mostly open looks and converting 4 of his first 5 attempts on the night.
The Wolves were clearly exhausted after playing last night, and it only made the nigh-impossible task of scoring on the Bulls’ vaunted defense that much more difficult. Rubio finished with 15 points on 5 of 14 shooting with 6 assists, zero steals, and zero turnovers in 32 minutes.
Ronny Turiaf had an especially active stretch of play in the first half, and played much better than Dieng tonight. He provided some resistance to the bruising and battering front line of the Bulls, but still doesn’t provide a ton on offense, despite shooting 5 of 7 from the field and scoring 11 points in just 17 minutes.
It wasn’t a terrible performance by the Wolves, just the perfect storm of a hot night for the Bulls from deep (they average just over six made three-pointers per game, and made 11 tonight) and a back-to-back for the good guys.
Next up is a home game against the Houston Rockets on Friday night. Tip-off is at 7:00 CT.