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Bulls 114, Wolves 113: Zach LaVine Steals the Show

In Jimmy Butler’s return to Chicago, it was the man he was traded for who made the big plays down the stretch in another Wolves loss to an Eastern Conference lottery team.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Zach LaVine scored the final 11 points for the Bulls, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler both missed on the final possession as the Wolves fell to the Bulls 114-113 in yet another frustrating loss to an Eastern Conference lottery team.

The story coming in was obviously the return of Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson to Chicago, as well as LaVine’s first appearance against his former team. Butler, after a bit of a slow start where he forced some things, took over the game in the second quarter, and had 20 at halftime, helping the Wolves to an 11 point lead. After back to back threes by Butler and Jeff Teague to open the third, the lead was 17, and it looked like the Wolves had taken control. After a Bulls turnover, however, Jeff Teague was wide open at the arc, but failed to pull the trigger, eventually turning the ball over on a poor pass. The Bulls worked their way to the free throw line on the next two possessions, and got back into the game as the Wolves defense collapsed and the ball stopped moving.

The Bulls stormed back to take a three point lead into the fourth quarter. The Wolves quickly took the lead back, and led most of the rest of the way, but LaVine, plotting his own revenge, started taking the ball to the rack with impunity. Meanwhile, the Wolves as they often do devolved offensively into Jimmy Butler ISO ball, and tonight it didn’t work. He and Karl-Anthony Towns (Eight shot attempts on the night) were able to get to the line to maintain the lead, but several stagnant possessions wound up costing them. After LaVine tied the game with a three, Butler was able to score in the paint over Lauri Markkanen. However, Butler fouled LaVine on a three point attempt on the next possession, and the three free throws gave the Bulls the lead and the final margin in the game, as the Wolves could not score as time expired.

This was an incredibly frustrating loss. The Wolves have been miserable on the road against poor Eastern Conference teams, with losses in Brooklyn, Orlando, Atlanta and now Chicago. Several of these games have followed a similar script, where the Wolves have let teams hang around and ultimately beat them in the end.

They have regressed badly on defense in the last few weeks, and while overall there are many things to be happy about, they have also lost eight of their last 13 games, and we can not pretend there aren’t real problems. Over those 13 games since mid-January, they are 29th in defensive rating. It looked like it was getting better for a while, but this is perhaps the most disappointing thing: The lack of any sustained defensive improvement.

I rarely delve in to player or team mentality, and I’m not going to do so here, but these losses are profoundly frustrating. Yes, good teams lose to bad teams all the time. But their inability to do what’s required after multiple similar outings is becoming an issue.

Ugh. I don’t know what else to write about this disaster.

Let’s notes.

  • We should be happy for Zach LaVine, who appears healthy and explosive, and finished with 35 points as he torched his former team and ruined Jimmy Butler’s homecoming.
  • Andrew Wiggins started the game red hot, making his first five shots, mostly in the paint as the the Wolves dominated inside in the first half. At one point he was 7-8 from the floor. He finished 9-14 as the Wolves went away from him later in the game, as is often the case.
  • Towns. Eight shots. He was in foul trouble early, but played 33 minutes.
  • On the other hand, his defense was not good. Robin Lopez made him look bad on a couple of occasions, and he was unable to protect the rim late.
  • Butler wound up with 35 points, but made only 3 of his final 13 shots, many of which were forced. Sometimes the ball stops moving.
  • Thibs stayed with Nemanja Bjelica (21 minutes) and especially Tyus Jones (25) a lot longer than usual. They both finished with positive +/- (with the Bjelica (+16) and Taj Gibson (-17) gap particularly noticeable.)
  • In a bizarre play during the third quarter, Thibs was given a technical when he was yelling, not at the officials, but at KAT. The ref misinterpreted it and teed him up.
  • Wolves are home for their final three before the All-Star break, to Sacramento, Houston, and the Los Angeles Lakers.