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Bulls 129, Wolves 123: Were We Put on Earth to Suffer?

Timberwolves stars Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns combined for 71 points, but Coby White and DeMar DeRozan each poured in 33 points to lead a 23-point comeback win for the Bulls.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

*AHEM.*

GRAPH!

On December 2, 2023, I saw the Minnesota Timberwolves get on the verge of blowing a game to the Charlotte Hornets, just to escape having handled business. That led to this paragraph:

“To many, that reads like a recap from the past, the seasons that had fans ripping their hair out with how easy it was to expect a loss even when winning. This team, however, has the opposite reputation so far. And that became abundantly clear on a few plays as the fourth quarter became more and more nail-biting.”

Yeah.

All of that.

Take it all and throw it in the garbage.

This Wolves team is hurtling back to a point of being an agonizing, poorly disciplined Sisyphean labor of love. They built the Pyramids and took an excavator to them. They wrote and then burnt the library of Alexandria. They made empanadas and then put raisins in them.

The Wolves have slowly but surely transformed from a team that had me expecting a win while losing into a team that can build a larger than 20-point lead over a below .500 team and I will be forced to expect nothing but pain.

My last recap was another bout with the Hornets, that dreadful, disgusting showing that started beautifully and wound up creating a slander cycle surrounding the Wolves so toxic that it made everyone rethink how valuable 60-point games were. I don’t want to rant like I did there. Let’s recap this one and get out of here. Trade Deadline day is Thursday, anyway.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Confusing from the Jump: Drummond + Vooch

Who would’ve thought that the Wolves strength would be so resolutely nullified? By starting Andre Drummond alongside Nikola Vucevic, the Chicago Bulls completely erased a size advantage that Minnesota has lorded over smaller rosters. Both bigs overfilled the stat sheet to the tune of 24 points and six rebounds with four blocks for Vooch along with a wild 16/16/4 stat line from Drummond.

(Editor’s Note: Alex Caruso also had four blocks. I can’t remember ever seeing three players with at least four blocks against the Wolves.)

The Big Penguin (Drummond) in particular was absolutely unstoppable inside the paint. Six offensive rebounds felt like 60 as one of Gobert’s worst defensive games of the year left us in agony. Vucevic was absolutely unstoppable in the second half (who wasn’t) and made multiple 3-pointers despite being a 27% shooter from deep this year.

Chicago’s 13 offensive rebounds and 16 second chance points were the turning point tonight, with many coming from this combo of bigs. When the Wolves traded for Gobert, he was supposed to mask their rebounding and paint defending problems. He has done that this year, and we will not judge a trade off of a random game in February, but Gobert haters could have a field day tonight.

Karl-Anthony Towns also had his own issues on the defensive end. He was absolutely hunted defensively in the second half, and only grabbed five rebounds. Whereas his performance pre-intermission made up for it by shooting 4/7 from beyond the arc, the second half saw KAT all but absent outside of a game-tying shot from deep left us at 115-115. Some might (fairly even) point at that shot as having been worth an additional foul call, but I will get to the refs later.

The choice didn’t seem very vital early on when the Wolves led the Bulls 16-12 when we saw our first substitution, but proved to be the storyline of this games massive flop.

NBA: FEB 06 Timberwolves at Bulls Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A (Georgia) Bulldog and KAT Show

Why did the Wolves have a 22-point lead after the first half? Well, Ant was drawing fouls and rebounding with season-long unseen tenacity, leading to fast break chances, and KAT, as mentioned before, shot 4/7 from distance. It’s moments like these that make it seem so simple to fix the offense.

Ant has spent the whole year taking responsibility to the media and claims he wants to learn how to close games effectively so the Wolves can avoid these situations. Most vocally, Ant is all-in on team play as a way to maximize late game offense. While first-half Ant may put that into action, we are seeing a worrying trend of second-half Ant completely forgetting his vow and deciding that “this team goes as I go” in a way that would make Troy Bolton proud.

Wolves fans have been begging KAT to shoot more since the universe was a singular speck of matter floating in the universe. KAT took another nine threes in the second half but made only three. It seems that rhythm is so vital for the two offensive fulcrums of this team. With it, there is balance and consistency. Without it, well, it’s like a slow-mo train crash.

Speaking of which...

Minnesota Timberwolves v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

The Slow-Mo Problem

The Wolves absolutely need more from Kyle Anderson.

They are, however, also putting him in a situation to fail. The Wolves have launched Slow-Mo into lineups that leave the team with no real offensive options and then expect him to be the creator that handles the offense. The pairing of Jordan McLaughlin and Kyle Anderson leverages all of their weaknesses and none of their strengths.

There were two stretches for Anderson that were particularly notable tonight. First, the first half featured a lineup of McLaughlin - Alexander-Walker - Anderson - Reid - Gobert that was so disastrous on both offense and defense that it left me completely baffled that it has been statistically relied upon. Even before this moment, when NAW was at the point and Ant at the two, the entire weight of the offense was thrust onto Edwards while Slow Mo tried to run the offense despite the lack of attention anyone else generated.

The second notable stretch of Anderson’s game tonight was one where the Wolves leaned on his chemistry with Gobert. What followed was a blown defensive communication from a Gobert leak away from the basket, then a pick and roll resulting in a turnover, and, finally, a failed transition defense. The insistence on the pairing makes sense. The guiding light for Minnesota’s run last year was the emergence of the Anderson - Gobert pairing. But this year’s iteration of the pairing, and of Kyle, is not the same and not nearly as effective or consistent.

Time will tell if Slow-Mo is scapegoated for the Wolves’ offensive struggles, but this is as much on the coaching staff as it is on Anderson himself.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Chicago Bulls Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Coby White: In Case You Didn’t Already Know

Coby White has completely transformed. There is a clear and obvious reason for his status as Most Improved Player frontrunner. After a scoreless first quarter and ineffective first half (three points on 1/7 FG), White absolutely erupted to finish with 33 points, seven assists, and four rebounds. Deep three after deep three swished. Step back after step back demoralized defenders who had done so well in the first frame. Smile after smile was had at the expense of a team that experienced a micro-avalanche of the Coby White experience.

While DeMar DeRozan closed out the overtime (with a 15/16 exhibition from the free throw line in the second half and overtime), it was Coby White that willed the Bulls back into this one. It’s also Coby White that shows us, once again, that the Wolves lack an extra offensive gear. When they can’t shut down the other team’s offense, their pedestrian scoring means that in any shootout, the Wolves will fall behind. The time of “the best offense is a good defense” ended when teams started scoring over ten dozens in regulation. The best defense is a good offense and, if that’s the standard, the Wolves do not have a good defense.

Other Moments of Note:

Jaden McDaniels went 5/5 from the field for 10 points in the first half. After a string of rough performances, it was good to see Jaden persevere and succeed on that end. Unfortunately, he finished with 13 points, making only one of his final six shots and turning the ball over at a backbreaking rate.

The game started getting out of hand in the third quarter when the Bulls went on a 10-0 run immediately to start the second set of 24 minutes. This continues the unfortunate trend of the Wolves having absolutely no quarter-to-quarter consistency.

Anthony Edwards finished with 38 points, impressive enough after a 23-point first half, but also with 12 rebounds. Ant’s rebounding allowed him to attack in transition multiple times, enabling free throw line trips and easy layups. The Wolves should try to increase pace as a quick fix to raise offensive efficiency.

Don’t Blame the Refs

The first thing that came to mind at the end of regulation was the importance of a Kyle Anderson technical foul that ended up evening the two teams out. Additionally, there were two KAT threes — one made, one missed — that can be replayed and pointed out as fouls. Fans will quickly flock to those as the reason for tonight’s loss.

I will not do that, however.

The third team on the court, the refs, lost their leader, Tony Brothers, to an Achilles injury. From there on out, the game was reffed by two officials. Any time there is a vacuum like that, officials will always try to wrestle it back. In that type of situation, the refs are probably not going to be compassionate to the side that keeps screaming at them.

Don’t blame the refs. The refs didn’t evaporate a 20+ point lead in about a quarter. The Wolves did that. It’s time to take the rose colored glasses off. This roster needs changes. I have no clue what they are, but this is not a team that makes it out of the first round. There are far too many flaws to stay the course. The trade deadline is Thursday. It should be an active affair in Minnesota.

Good night. I’m sorry about tonight. But the sun will rise again tomorrow. And so will trade talk.


Up Next

The Wolves will make the drive up I-41 for a Thursday night date with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in Doc Rivers’ coaching debut at Fiserv Forum. Fans can watch the 7 PM CT tip on Bally Sports North.

Keep in mind that the NBA Trade Deadline is this Thursday at 2 PM CT. Make sure to bookmark our Trade Deadline Tracker and check back for all the latest trade and buyout rumors, news and analysis leading up to and after the deadline.


Game Highlights