By Mike McGraw
Bulls shooting guard Marco Belinelli has a trait in common with coach Tom Thibodeau: You can ask him different questions, but he will give the same answers.
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While there's a long list of well-worn "Thibs-isms," Belinelli's mantra has stayed along the lines of how he wants to be known as more than a 3-point shooter.
That's good, because he knocked down just 3 baskets from 3-point range in the first five games, after being ice cold in the preseason.
Bulls fans finally saw the complete Belinelli on Saturday. He drained 3-pointers on three of the first four possessions of the fourth quarter, allowing the home team to pull away for an 87-80 victory over Minnesota at the United Center.
The native of Bologna, Italy, opened his locker-room interview by restating his desire to be more than a 3-point specialist. Then he went into more detail about the type of player he'd like to be.
"The last two games, I didn't play a lot (14 minutes total)," he said. "I watched the games and think I wasn't aggressive on defense. That's the mistake I made. I know on this team, you always play good defense.
"I want to play. I want to win, so that's the job I have to do, be aggressive every time on defense. Start aggressive on defense first and don't try to be just aggressive on offense."
The Bulls (4-2) had trouble pulling away, even though Minnesota played without all-star Kevin Love (broken hand), point guard Ricky Rubio (knee surgery), Brandon Roy (sore knee) and backup point Jose Barea (foot sprain).
The Timberwolves also played Friday night and lost forward Chase Budinger early in the fourth quarter with a knee injury.
Despite the injuries, Minnesota was off to its best start since 2001-02 at 4-1 before facing the Bulls. During the first three quarters, the Bulls never led by more than 6 points, then Belinelli's 3-point flurry stretched the lead to 72-63 with just less than 10 minutes remaining.
"Today, I looked at him and said, 'That's the Marco I know,'" Bulls guard Nate Robinson said. "He's getting his swagger back."
Robinson led the Bulls with 18 points, followed by Joakim Noah with 17 and Luol Deng with 16. Belinelli scored 9 of his 11 points in the second half.
Robinson started the second half after Kirk Hinrich left the game with a hip strain. Thibodeau didn't have an update on Hinrich's status following the game. The veteran guard walked out of the locker room without any limp.
With the Bulls short-handed, rookie guard Marquis Teague got a chance to score his first NBA points on a driving bank shot late in the third quarter.
"We need everybody," Thibodeau said. "I thought tonight our bench was ready. I thought they came in and gave us a big lift. Every night it will be someone different. We have to do it collectively. We have to make the ball move, have to make bodies move, and we've got to get stops."
Carlos Boozer finished with just 2 points, but he grabbed a team-high 9 rebounds. The Bulls had 9 blocked shots, including 4 by Noah and 3 by Taj Gibson.